This is the first installation of a series of summaries of the book Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.
When John Hattie finished his research he noted that feedback was among the most powerful influences on achievement. It was hard to figure out exactly what kind of feedback worked best. He soon found that feedback was most powerful when it was from the student to the teacher. Feedback to teachers makes learning visible.
Feedback is information provided by an agent about aspects of one’s performance or understanding. Feedback is a “consequence” of performance.
To assist in understanding feedback, it is useful to consider a continuum of instruction and feedback. On one end, there are clear distinctions between the two. On the other, they combine together confusingly. To be closer to the clear cut side of the continuum, one needs to remember that feedback is any information a learner can use to know where they are in relation to a goal.
Feedback effect sizes show considerable variability. The most effective forms provide cues to the learner or relate to learning goals. The key is feedback that is received and acted upon by the student. There is a disconnect between teacher belief of how much feedback is being provided and student agreement.
The most systematic study addressing the effects of various types of feedback was published by Kluger and DeNisi (1996). It found feedback is most effective when it provides information on correct responses and where it builds upon changes from previous trails. There is highest impact when goals are specific and challenging, but when task complexity is low. Feedback is more effective when there are perceived low levels of threat to student self-esteem.
The major feedback questions are “Where am I going?”, “How am I doing?”, and “Where to next?”. It is ideal when both teachers and students seek answers to each of these questions.
First, feedback can be about the task or product. Second, feedback can be aimed at the process used to create the product or complete the task. Third, feedback to the student can be focused at the self-regulation level. Fourth, feedback can be personal in the sense that it is directed to the “self.” This type of feedback is rarely effective. When feedback draws attention to self, students try to avoid the risks involved in a challenging assignment, they minimize effort, and they have a high fear of failure.
It is in doubt as to whether rewards should be considered feedback at all, since they contain so little task information. Tangible rewards significantly undermine intrinsic motivation, particularly for interesting tasks (Effect Size = -0.68). Extrinsic rewards are a controlling strategy, which is found to undermine enhanced student engagement and regulation.
The art is to provide the right form of feedback at, or just above, the level where the student is working. Teaching and learning should move from the task to the processes and understanding necessary to learn the task, and then to continue beyond it to more challenging tasks and goals. Think fluency and mastery.
Feedback is not “the” answer to effective teaching and learning, but it is a powerful answer. Feedback follows foundational instruction. Feedback needs to be clear, purposeful, meaningful and compatible with student’s prior knowledge. A “perfect” feedback classroom climate fosters peer and self assessment, and allows for learning from mistakes.