Seynabou Kane: The Power of Feedback

I believe that awareness around feedback must be a part of the normal class assignments, because the only way to make sure we do not continue making the same mistakes is to get feedback. We all make mistakes, it is part of our lives. Additionally, finding a way to improve our skills and behaviors, is always important to take into consideration. That is why we should care more about the value and power of feedback.

Nearly 100 years ago a scientist named Thorndike, did research about behaviorism (stimulus-response). ‘Positive feedback was considered as "positive reinforcement," and negative feedback was considered as "punishment". Both reinforcement and punishment affect learning, as of now feedback could be seen as an effective way to learn.’ For a long time people actually thought that behaviorism could change the behaviours of their fellow humans. But luckily, since 1991 there are many studies that examined the real effective ways of giving feedback. Educational theorists have now figured out that the feedback that is given to the student, is influenced by several factors before the message is received. Those factors consists of inside information, experiences, and motivation. The student needs to learn from schoolwork and not only respond to a stimuli. The value of feedback became more important after these studies. Let's take a better look at why the student’s perception is so important...

For example: a teacher says, “I really want to talk to you about something. You are making a lot of mistakes in your schoolwork. What are you going to do about it? “The reaction of a student would be,“I make mistakes? What do you mean? You see, I am always doing something wrong.” You can read that the student is taking the answer (question) negatively. If it was up to my opinion he is totally right. The teacher has already made up his judgement, he is staying vague and thinks that the student has to come up with a solution to correct his grammar. The student immediately uses self-defence because he did not have the space to actually say what was going wrong. Even though it looks like the teacher wants to improve the student’s behaviour but in reality is creating more distance between them.

Danish scientist Knud Illeris has proved that learning is not only a cognitive ability, but also a social and emotional ability. For teachers it is a fundamental task to not just focus on content of the schoolwork, but also focusing on the emotional behavior of the students. So, how can teachers do this? For example, a student is handing in a paper and is waiting for his grade. Teachers mostly limit the amount of positive feedback to great work or good job. In my opinion, this is not effective feedback. First of all, we all interpret “good job”or “great work” different furthermore it stays a vague praise. As a matter of fact it gives only confidence and does not contribute to the learning process. Students deserve to be complimented about the strategies they used to make the great works. Lia Voerman works at the University of Utrecht, she explains that, ‘A stimulating effect for learning consists of elements of a present, past and future. It is about the results of today, but it also offers new challenges and goals.’ When we are giving feedback, we must lay hold to the strategies we used, the words we applied when we communicate and how we can improve our work. ‘Recent research shows that students improved their feedback much more if they had achieved feedback focused on the strategies they used.’

Not only looking at the past, present, future, the students’ perception is important in feedback but also in the way we communicate and listen to them. Good feedback contains information that a student can use, which means that the student has to be able to hear and understand it. Communication occurs everywhere. We communicate throughout verbal and nonverbal communication, awareness and spontaneous acts. The way we nod our head when we agree with something, the way we give a compliment about someone's new shoes, the way we offer silence in a conversation. The author of the article Five reasons why feedback may be the most important skill wrote; “If we think we’re not communicating, we’re a dangerous communicator because it means we are probably not managing communication effectively” I totally agree with his stand. Being aware of what we are actually communicating would have the effect that we understand each other better. Another important subject of communication is to listen. Showing more understanding and appreciation to each other will seem that the conversations have a lot more value and meaning. To help you summarize the whole scale of important topics I discussed,I want to give you 7 tips you can use, you can use them in the classroom, when you are with friends, at home or anywhere. These tips come from a (Dutch) article, Effective feedback tips.

  1. Be descriptive, do not evaluate or judge only describe what you see.
  2. Be specific and not vague.
  3. The feedback has to be useful, some one really has to have the feeling that you want to help
  4. The feedback has to be desirable and never enforced
  5. Give the feedback on the right moments
  6. 6 Be clear and precise
  7. Compare the given feedback with the other persons in the group setting.