Teacher feedback is considered one of the most powerful instructional variables in terms of enhancing student achievement (Hattie 1993). Because teaching and learning are relational processes, teachers are both sources and receivers of feedback. Teachers provide feedback to their students about their learning and they receive feedback from their students about their teaching.
Ilgen et al. (1979) defined feedback from a source to a recipient as information about the correctness, accuracy, or appropriateness of the recipient’s past performance. As sources of feedback, teachers encode and convey verbal and nonverbal messages to students either face-to-face or through some form of mediation, such as written comments, regarding students’ past performance. As receivers of feedback, teachers receive and decode messages from students either face-to-face (i.e., students’ responsive behaviors) or through some form of mediation (i.e., teacher evaluations) regarding teachers’ past performance.
Characteristics of Effective Feedback
Feedback messages have a number of common characteristics: valence, timeliness, specificity, frequency, and sensitivity (Cusella 1987). Feedback valence refers to perceived attractiveness or value of the information conveyed. Positively valenced feedback consists of messages implying that the recipient’s behavior or performance was satisfactory. Negatively valenced feedback consists of messages implying that the recipient’s behavior or performance was unsatisfactory. Although the valence of the feedback may be the most important characteristic influencing how students accept teacher feedback, the timeliness, specificity, frequency, and sensitivity have also been shown to enhance acceptance. Timeliness centers on how quickly a feedback source provides feedback after the performance occurs. Specificity refers to the level of detail contained in the feedback and focuses on what behaviors need to be changed. Frequency refers to the number of times feedback is given. Sensitivity refers to whether or not the feedback demonstrates a concern for the recipient’s feelings. Students learn more and are more motivated to learn when their teachers provide them with feedback that is timely, specific, frequent, and sensitive (Kluger & DeNisi 1996).
Teachers as Sources of Feedback
Types and Effects of Teacher Feedback
Researchers have identified three large classifications of teacher feedback: classroom management feedback, teacher–student interaction feedback, and competency-based feedback. Classroom management feedback functions to manage students’ behavior and work habits. It tends to be negative, reactive, and focused on procedures rather than academic performance. Examples of this type of feedback include reprimand, criticism, and disapproval focusing on students’ neatness, deportment, timeliness, compliance, attention, and work completion. Morgan (2001) concluded that negative managerial feedback decreased students’ activity interest, self-perceived competence, liking for the teacher, and willingness to work with the teacher. Another type of classroom management feedback is referred to as behavioral alteration techniques (BATs). This type features 11 pro-social and 7 antisocial techniques that are directed at managing students’ on-task behavior (Kearney et al. 1984). Pro-social techniques are feedback messages that students perceive as potentially rewarding; students perceive antisocial techniques as potentially punishing. Numerous studies confirm the benefits of pro-social strategies, including increased student learning, motivation, and compliance, and reduced student resistance (Roach et al. 2006).
Teacher–student interaction feedback occurs within the context of a teacher–student dialogue and involves feedback that teachers give to students when they answer teachers’ questions. This type of feedback functions to enhance student learning and critical thinking. Three types of interaction feedback have been identified: three-term contingency trial feedback, differential feedback, and instructive feedback. Three-term contingency trial feedback is when a teacher asks a student a fact-based question, the student responds with an answer, and the teacher immediately comments on the correctness of the student’s response. Differentiated feedback is when teachers vary their feedback based on the type of response they receive from the student. For example, if a student’s response is correct, quick, and firm, then a short statement of acknowledgment is appropriate. If a student’s incorrect response is due to a lack of knowledge or understanding, prompts or cues that lead the student to the correct response are appropriate. Instructive feedback is when teachers consistently add supplemental information to students’ responses, allowing students to acquire more information while using the same amount of instructional time it takes to simply recognize that the response was correct.
Competency-based feedback functions to enhance students’ academic ability and performance. There are two types of competency-based feedback – process and product. Process feedback (also known as formative feedback, corrective feedback, or elaborated feedback) is the feedback that teachers provide to students while students are preparing their assignments. An example of this type of feedback would be students submitting drafts of their work to their teacher before the due date, which allows the teacher an opportunity to provide corrective feedback while the student develops the assignment. Research suggests that there is a positive relationship between formative feedback and student learning (Bloom 1976). Mastery learning occurs when students perform at the optimal level and is promoted by teachers incorporating a number of feedback loops into the development of an academic product. Mastery learning is also more likely to occur when teachers use elaborated feedback, which includes specific, detailed, and timely information on how students can enhance the quality of their work.
Product feedback (also known as summative feedback, outcome feedback, or knowledge of results feedback) is the feedback that teachers provide to students once students are finished with their assignment or academic product. This type of feedback is to inform students of the correctness or the incorrectness of their work. One type of product feedback is speech evaluation, or the feedback teachers provide to students following an oral presentation (Rubin 1999). Speech evaluation feedback can be given to students in an oral (a conversation) or written (using checklists, rating scales, or open-ended critiques) manner. Although students appreciate receiving positive rather than negative feedback about their speech performances, they remain receptive to negative feedback that is specific and impersonal. Specific feedback is detailed and concrete, and addresses in a step-by-step manner the speaking behaviors that need to be changed. Feedback that focuses on fewer behavioral changes is more effective than feedback that includes a long list of behaviors. Impersonal feedback or comments that focus on aspects of the speech rather than on the speaker are more helpful than personal ones, especially when the feedback is directed at aspects of delivery (Rubin 1999).
Student Characteristics That Impact Teacher Feedback
Teachers provide different types of feedback to male and female students. A comprehensive meta-analysis conducted by Jones et al. (2006) found that although teachers initiated more overall interactions with male than with female students, teachers also reprimanded and negatively critiqued male students more than female students. This research analysis did not reveal any significant differences in the amount of positive teacher feedback between male and female students.
Teachers also provide different types of feedback to students based on their own expectations for student achievement. An expectation is an inference that teachers make about the present and future academic achievement and general classroom behaviors of their students (Rosenthal & Jacobson 1968). Expectations are formed by such individual differences as student personality, social style, physical attractiveness, seating location, writing neatness, nonverbal responsiveness, and speech characteristics (Brophy & Good 1974). These effects were first reported in Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) classic study examining how teacher expectations of students influenced their teaching and interactions with students.
Teachers have been shown to provide high- and low-expectation students with different types of feedback:
- Teachers respond to incorrect answers from low-expectation students (more so than those from high-expectation students) by giving them the answer or calling on another student to answer the question.
- Teachers respond to incorrect answers from high-expectation students by giving themadditional time, repeating the question, providing a clue, or asking a new question.
- Teachers criticize low-expectation students proportionately more frequently than high-expectation students when they provide wrong answers.
- Teachers are less likely to praise low-expectation students when they provide a correctanswer than high-expectation students, even though they provide fewer correct responses.
- Teachers are less likely to publicly confirm or reaffirm the correct responses of low-expectation students.
- Teachers are less nonverbally responsive (less eye contact, smiling) to low- than tohigh-expectation students (Brophy & Good 1974).
Teachers as Receivers of Feedback
Because of the relational nature of teaching and learning, teachers are also receivers of two types of student feedback. Process-related student feedback is the feedback that students provide teachers while they are teaching. Product-related student feedback is the feedback that students provide teachers once the grade level or course is completed. Both process and product forms of student feedback have been shown to impact teachers and their teaching.
Students provide process feedback to their teachers while they are teaching in the form of responsive behaviors. Verbal responsive behaviors include answering the teacher’s or other students’ questions. Positively valenced nonverbal responsive behaviors include forward body leans, head nods, note taking, and vocal assurances. Many teachers are aware of student responsive behaviors and use these behaviors as feedback information to enhance their teaching effectiveness.
Students’ responsive behaviors, especially nonverbal responsive behaviors, have been shown to affect teachers’ self-perceptions, perceptions of students, and instructional behaviors (Mottet et al. 2006). As students’ positively valenced responsiveness increases, teachers report being more satisfied in their teaching career, consider themselves to be more self-efficacious in their teaching, and are more motivated to teach. Teachers perceive responsive students to be more intelligent, caring, trustworthy, and likeable than less responsive students. Teachers are more willing to let their responsive students influence them and their teaching behaviors than their less responsive students. Finally, as student responsiveness increases, teachers are more willing to comply with students’ requests and are more lenient in how they evaluate students’ written work and oral presentations (Mottet et al. 2006).
Students provide product feedback to their teachers at the end of a grade level or once the course is completed, in the form of student grades and students’ teacher evaluations.
Both of these sources of product feedback have been shown to affect teachers and their teaching behavior. With primary and secondary teachers, high-achieving students positively impact teacher attitudes as well as teachers communicating positive expectations to students’ next grade level instructor (Brophy & Good 1974). In higher education, students’ teacher evaluations have been shown to affect instructor grading leniency (Eiszler 2002) as well as tenure and promotion decisions (Kennedy 1997).
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