Learning Sciences – A Good Way to Get from Here to There

 (1) Where is the student going? (goals, feed up); (2) How is the student going? (current state, feed back); and (3) Where to next? (closing the gap, feed forward).

–  A review of feedback models and typologies: Towards an integrative model of feedback elements

Taken together, these findings present strong evidence that providing university students with individualized, descriptive feedback specific to their work, and allowing them to make revisions based on that information, leads to significant improvement in writing performance.

 – Toward a Model of Student Response to Feedback

In Pirates of the Caribbean, we see that Jack Sparrow, the protagonist, has in his possession an otherworldly item. It is a compass which does not point north. Instead, it points one towards the location of what one wants most. Such a compass could fulfil three functions, each with its distinct utility. The functions are as follows.

First, it could point to the geographical location of what one wants. If what one wanted most was intangible, the location could be where this intangible thing would be found provided the owner undertook certain actions. If its location was already known, this function of the compass would not be of much use to the owner. However, for someone who did not know what it was they wanted most, this function would be most useful.

Second, it could point to the general direction one should go in order for a critical chain of events to be triggered such that one ends up with what they want most. At each stage, the compass would point to the next correct step in the journey. For people who know what it is they want most but have no idea how to get it because the barriers are not merely physical, this function would be very useful.

The third function would be to prevent time wastage. So long as the compass points towards a general direction, it is also pointing away from where one is presently. The person concerned would know at the very least, where not to be or what efforts would be futile in view of the larger scheme of things.

Imagine having some mechanism which illuminates the path between where one is and where one wants to be while empowering movement along this path. Students already have this mechanism in their possession and many may not be realising its value. This mechanism is feedback. While not as otherworldly as Jack Sparrow’s compass which does not point north and probably knows him better than he does, feedback has the potential to steer students towards their learning (if not life) goals.

Researchers have focused on the various aspects of feedback giving and taking with students of all age groups. The research continues apace and this year, two educational psychologists (Panadero and Lipnevich) who specialise in the study of feedback, published their review of existing models of feedback and proposed their own model which aimed to bring together the best aspects of existing models, in the journal, Educational Research Review.

In general, they agree with John Hattie and Helen Timperley, both eminent contributors of knowledge to the field of Education, that good feedback is not just feed back but also feed up and feed forward.

According to Hattie and Timperley who in 2007, co-published The Power of Feedback, feed back tells students how to get to where they need to be. Feed up tells them where they need to be. Feed forward tells them the next step they need to take. According to their Model of Feedback to Enhance Learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), students need to receive information which feeds up, back and forward on four areas.

The four areas students need information on are as follows.

First, they need to know how well they have understood task requirements and how well they have met task requirements. For example, there may be a prevailing misperception that the objective of the Continuous Writing task is to merely test if students can write in an engaging way. Understanding the rubrics of a task is key especially if they are to be assessed formally.

Second, they need to know the underlying processes required to perform the task well. For instance, students would need to know that to get a high score in Continuous Writing, demonstrating mastery of writing mechanics alone would not cut it. They would need to know that they have to plan and how to plan. They would need to know how to have the big picture in mind while making editorial decisions at the level of the sentence and paragraph.

Third, Hattie and Timperley (2007) highlight that students need information which enables them to self-regulate. This means students should be able to know how to take control of the process to successfully complete a task without having access to external feedback.

Lastly, feedback should also enable students to have a positive image as a learner and manage difficult emotions.

To summarise, according to Hattie and Timperley (2007) whose views are good authority, good feedback informs students about their performance, what processes they need to undertake in order to do better, what to do on their own and how they should view themselves as learners.

Panadero and Lipnevich (2022) combined Hattie and Timperley’s (2007) suggestions with those of other researchers and their own, in their paper. They offered the following recommendations.

They highlighted that the best feedback is only effective to the extent the recipient is able to successfully process it and make required changes for the better. They shared that feedback should be accessible to the learner – the learner should understand clearly what is being said to him or her.

After explaining that feedback can be from a teacher to a student, between peers or from learners to themselves, Panadero and Lipnevich (2022) highlighted that peer feedback may be accepted and understood more easily in some instances and that teachers should write in a way which makes sense to the learner.

Teachers should have regard to the personal characteristics of learners when giving feedback. Some students would benefit from more praise while others are able to handle it when told that they need to do something better. Different students would be at different stages of progress in terms of their task-related skills. Some students would have the motivation and knowledge of processes to work independently and others may need more guidance in this regard. Different students would have different emotional reactions to different kinds of feedback. Feedback must be constructed only after all these factors have been considered for each unique student.

Panadero and Lipnevich (2022) also highlighted that climate matters. If students feel judged, they may dread feedback. If they believe that there is no judgement and that they are safe (no threat to ego), they may be more receptive to feedback.

Finally, they added that the purpose of education is to help students achieve a very high degree of independence and that teachers should empower students to be able to self-assess – give themselves accurate feedback. To do this, teachers can equip students with the terminology of processes and standards so that students are able to wield this information for themselves.

It is not enough to have a compass. One must also know how to use it.


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