How can feedback be used to promote sustainable learning ?

In the ebook “Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014)” from the  American Psychological Association (APA), John Hattie and Greg Yates define feedback as the information allowing a learner to reduce the gap between what is evident currently and what could or should be the case.

Teachers are convinced that they give their students regularly much useful feedback.
However, studies show usually very low levels of teacher-student feedback. In these studies, students report little feedback from their teacher, “just a few seconds a day”. Learners receive more feedback from their peers, but which is often faulty.

For example, many excellent teachers realise that individual feedback is time consuming and will spend time instructing their class in how past assignments can be improved. However, in interviewing students, it is noted that group-level feedback is largely irrelevant to those that have mastered an objective, and often is ignored by those that have not. The teacher believes he or she has provided feedback, but many within the class are bored, tuned out, or simply focussing on other things in their life more important at the time.

To improve this situation in the classroom, and Hattie Yates develop an easy to understand description of how feedback in the learning process actually works. They reduced this down to three key inevitable questions who are always:

  1. where is the student going?
  2. Just how is the student getting on right now?
  3. Just what is the next step?

Where is the student going? The role of goals

The first question fixes upon the role of clearly articulated goals. Feedback doesnot work in a vacuum. Instead, it registers discrepancy between the current state and a known objective. The student can be expected to be sensitive to experienced feedback only once there is a clearly known objective in place. This has to be    seen as the necessary starting point.
Hence, effective goals are expressed in terms of indexed outcomes, generally aligned within a sequence of ordered steps. Without such an understanding of the desired outcomes and the necessary sub goals, feedback could be disorienting, confusing, or interpreted as something about the student rather about than the current task that both parties (student and teacher) must focus upon.

What progress has been made? Or how am I going?

For goals to be effective, students need information about current achievements.  There is anticipated progress, and intermediate sub goals must be attained.       Progress is generally along a prescribed track, which is not necessarily unique tothe individual. 
Feedback needs to take the form of realistic assessments as to how far along the  journey the student has come, and can serve to reduce cognitive load by showing   the students where in this sequence they need to exert their thinking and effort.

What direction to take now? What is the next step?

Students are disinterested in past errors and post-mortems, but clamour for guidance as to what to do in the future, as defined in terms of the next few minutes.   The teacher’s role is now to enable resources, help, instruction, and scaffolds tobe in place to assist the student to know where to next? A clear direction has to be identified. Through such guidance, progress toward the initial goal can be     maintained with enthusiasm and effort. Students who receive feedback with little  guidance as to how to approach the task to make revisions may feel frustrated,    often leading to further negative affect


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