When Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison wrote on Instagram (@harrisonfamilyvalues) that he was returning his sons’ participation trophies because they were awarded “for nothing,” he was probably unaware that his views on the feedback his sons got are in line with those of an educator halfway around the world.
Australian professor John Hattie found teacher feedback to be one of the top factors helping students bridge the gap between trying and achievement. His findings are based on meta-analyses of 50,000 studies involving over 200 million students.
What does high-quality feedback look like? It’s clear, dynamic, and specific so that students can address their weaknesses in order to attain their goals. A trophy for participation doesn’t do that. According to Hattie, worthwhile feedback answers these questions:
Where am I going? Students need to have a clear understanding of what the goal is, how to achieve it, and its benefits. For Harrison’s sons, participation was a means of reaching the goal of excelling or winning in athletics. Getting a trophy before you reach your goal can actually undermine working towards achievement.
How am I going? Feedback should give students a realistic picture of their progress, what they have accomplished, and what they need to work on. If Harrison’s sons had gotten productive feedback, it would have included acknowledgment of the skills they acquired and evaluation of specific skills they need to improve. Not having that kind of feedback robbed Harrison of the opportunity to discuss and practice skills with his sons. This type of progress report is extremely successful in moving students forward.
Where to next? This feedback illuminates learning pathways for students. When teachers outline specific steps such as engaging in new activities, working with peers, or just plain practice, they are showing faith in the student to do better. In this context, “I am not good at math” doesn’t hold. Instead, it’s “I didn’t understand this problem today.” This approach leads students to forget they “failed” and focus on how to do better.
Notice that there is no mention of raising student self-esteem. It’s all about the task. According to Hattie, confidence and pride grow from achievement. Productive feedback is not personal; it’s individualized.
If, as Woody Allen says, “eighty percent of success is showing up,” then it’s the last 20% that gets you significant achievement. Hattie reveals that any program or method of teaching can show some success—students will show some improvement from the beginning to the end of the year. But that doesn’t mean the program is the best one for your students.
Technology can offer the types of feedback Hattie advocates to help students conquer the challenges in that last 20%. To help your students reach the trophy level in their endeavors, here are some questions on feedback to keep in mind when you evaluate a digital learning program:
- Does it include pedagogically sound learning objectives?
- Is there targeted feedback specific to skills throughout the program?
- Is the program adaptive, providing new varied content pathways tailored to each student?
- Does it share learning data with students and instructors in real time?