What should your priorities be this year? From a personal standpoint, managing your health through good food, exercise, and stress management are pretty smart paths to follow. After all, if you’re not at your best, both you and your students miss out.
From a professional standpoint, ensuring that students become strong learners should be a top priority.
Since you don’t have time for every idea on earth, what factors will support your student’s growth the most? For now, we’ll focus on just one of the top five factors that drive student achievement. The study we draw from is grounded in work from several thousand teachers, so the sample size is impressive.
Focusing on what matters most is one sure way to “disaster-proof” your teaching.
PART ONE: Research
A human being is born less able to cope on its own than any other mammal. However, this provides the brain with extraordinary flexibility to adapt to its environment. The method it uses is a monster’s appetite for environmental adaption based on experience. Yet, I’ve always said that our brain is primarily a “gist processor.” That means that we are more interested in being effective (goal acquisition) than we are being efficient, being a deep thinker, or knowing a lot of background. In the classroom, this means that most kids (unless we shape their brains differently) would much rather get quirky headlines, YouTube clips, and do activities all day.
To become effective, the brain relies on an exquisite collection of feedback processors.
It is the feedback on our experiences that help us correct our senses, thoughts, and behaviors. Learning which action leads to the most beneficial outcome in a given situation is one of the central components of adaptive behavior. But, if you offer just content all day our brains “hit the wall” pretty fast and learning goes DOWN (Russell, et al., 1984). It takes time to process the learning, so that’s another limiter (Klingberg, 2000). Some have found that it’s good to slow the pace (Wood, 2002).
This suggests that teaching “too much, too fast” is a bad idea. But, it also suggests that what kids do get, they may get wrong.
This leads us to why the classroom factor that has the greatest impact on classroom achievement is (drum roll please)… feedback (Hattie, 2009).
Many of the original studies on feedback were done using subjects in gambling paradigms, where mistakes can cost and better behaviors can bring rewards. However, recent indications suggest that the dopaminergic system (the good feelings of a reward) is also involved in tasks in which only cognitive feedback is provided (Daniel and Pollmann, 2010). If this is true, there ought to be evidence in which classroom feedback in the form of task-only (vs. teacher directed) excellence significantly raises the learning.
In fact, the factor that has the greatest effect on student achievement is on-going feedback. The type, duration, form, intensity, and developmental appropriateness of feedback could fill volumes. But on a raw level, any thoughtful feedback that students get in class is far better than none at all. This helps you understand WHY nearly any feedback-driven strategy, even quizzes, will support greater achievement (Logan et al., 2011).
PART TWO: Applications
Here are some guidelines for enhancing your results from using more feedback.
Generally, feedback is either positive to affirm or corrective to illuminate a mistake. Learning from mistakes speeds up changes in the brain. Getting affirmation for right answers helps build confidence and love of learning. These two approaches result in two different outcomes.
The question is, which is more important in your teaching moment: acting for either the general situation (e.g. correcting a test for the whole class) or for a specific student that you work with?
Those are ongoing decisions to make. As an example, in language learning, when students get the correct answer after an incorrect response, initial feedback increased final retention by as much as 494%! However, feedback after the correct responses were given made little difference either immediately or at a delay (Pashler, et al., 2005). In general, give feedback that describes the content, not the person. For example, make it specific and say, “Put the semicolon right after THIS type of phrase, not that type.”
How can you give students more feedback? The following are some practical suggestions you were waiting for.
Use Gallery walks, have students build a physical model, provide games with competition, implement using an author’s chair, small group discussion, use audio or video feedback, peer editing, student presentations, hypothesis building and testing, have students use a checklist, engage them in brainstorming, compare and contrast work, pre-testing, interim quizzes, partner quizzes, and the use of a rubric. Here’s a suggestion: it is far better to use lower-quality, less detailed feedback constantly, than to give students more detailed feedback weekly or monthly.
One last thing: each of the authors of the studies used above would like to offer this caveat: Not every study has been done with every subject, with every student age, or under every condition. Be perceptive and know your students and the situation. You can get great results, but keep after the big mission and don’t get hung up the details.
Your partner in learning,
CEO, Jensen Learning
Daniel, R. and Pollman, S. (2010) Comparing the Neural Basis of Monetary Reward and Cognitive Feedback during Information-Integration Category Learning. The Journal of Neuroscience, January 6, 30(1): 47-55.
Hattie, J. A. (1992a). Towards a model of schooling: A synthesis of meta-analyses. Australian Journal of Education, 36, 5–13.
Hattie, J. A. (1993a). Measuring the effects of schooling. SET, 2, 1–4.
Hattie, J. A. (1993b, July). What works: A model of the teaching-learning interaction. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Teacher Education Association, Fremantle, Australia.
Hattie, J.A C. (2002). What are the attributes of excellent teachers? In Teachers make a difference: What is the research evidence? (pp. 3-26). Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
Hattie J (2009) Visible Learning; a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement London; Routledge
Klingberg, T. (2000). Limitations in information processing in the human brain: neuroimaging of dual task performance and working memory tasks. Prog Brain Res., 126, 95-102.
Logan JM, Thompson AJ, Marshak DW. (2011) Testing to enhance retention in human anatomy. Anat Sci Educ. Jul 29.
Pashler H, Cepeda NJ, Wixted JT, Rohrer D. (2005) When does feedback facilitate learning of words? J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn. Jan; 31(1): 3-10.
Petty, G. (2006) Evidence-based Teaching; a practical approach Cheltenham; Nelson Thornes.
Russell IJ, Hendricson WD, Herbert RJ. (1984) Effects of lecture information density on medical student achievement. J Med Educ. Nov; 59 (11 Pt 1): 881-9.
Wood, C. (2002, Mar). Changing the pace of school: slowing down the day to improve the quality of learning. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(7): 545-50.
photo credit: Pete Reed