Giving helpful feedback to students can be a real challenge for teachers, and it's a skill that many continue to refine throughout their careers. However, research indicates that some approaches are more successful than others. When given badly, studies have shown that feedback can do more harm than good (https://www.tamu.edu/faculty/payne/PA/Kluger%20&%20DeNisi%201996.pdf), although British education charity the Sutton Trust argues that good feedback is one of the most effective techniques for improved learning. That’s why this week we’re sharing some of the approaches to student feedback that research has indicated to be the most helpful.
One mistake that is easy to make is offering excessive praise to students who have struggled, especially over a long period of time. The temptation here is to heap praise on the student for any small success. However, easy, insincere praise is easy to detect and off-putting as it creates a sense of low expectations, so is ultimately demoralising (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-29838029). All students need to be carefully corrected, but this is especially true of teenagers, who care a lot about what their peers think. Even the gentlest of constructive critiques can be read as a personal attack, leading to perfectionism or a fear of failure. One was to combat this is Whisper Correction (http://teachlikeachampion.com/blog/clip-day-jason-armstrong-whsiper-correction/) where praise and advice is given using a tone and volume designed only for the person the comment is directed at.
It is also unwise to make comparisons between students in a public setting. A recent study has indicated that positive comparisons can lead to narcissistic behaviour (http://www.pnas.org/content/112/12/3659.short) but can also result in reduced motivation, lower confidence, poor academic performance, increased anxiety and emotional control (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1041608096900151). When praise is given, it is a good idea to be specific, as it might not always be clear what is good about the work. For example, “the way you structured your argument is excellent”, is much more helpful than “good work”. Research indicated that teenagers find it especially difficult to understand other people’s perspectives as a result of brain restructuring (https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/dec/09/teenage-brain-psychologist-guide-teachers-classroom). Furthermore, targeted praise makes it clear for students which areas they still need to work on.
Praising effort over intelligence is a great way of encouraging intrinsic motivation and gives children a lifelong template for how to approach a challenging task. In one study (http://www.reed.edu/motivation/docs/PraiseReview.pdf), students praised for their intelligence asked how well their peers completed the same task. Students praised for their effort asked how they could improve next time, creating a more positive learning attitude. Lastly, aim for a mix of open and closed questions. Closed questions keep the discussion focused and highlight key points, but open questions are vital for the sharing of elaborate ideas.
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