In learning, feedback is critical. In this context, feedback can be described as the reaction to a person’s performance of a task which is used as a basis for improvement. It controls the speed at which learning progress occurs and directs our behaviour. It can also build or destroy self-confidence.
Feedback which has the most positive impact on learning is instantaneous and specific .A child touching a hot stove learns immediately that such an action causes pain and is to be avoided. While learning, children generally progress as quickly as feedback allows them to confirm their understanding or correct it, if necessary.In teaching reading, for example, we know that it is best not to allow a child to struggle for too long to pronounce a new word. The brain is more likely to remember the correct pronunciation if it is given reasonably quickly rather than allowing the child to stumble through many incorrect attempts.
For many years, good feedback has been absent from many classrooms:
- Language Essays are returned several days after submission by which time most children can barely recall what they wrote – it takes time to properly review children’s writing.
- Often questions are not posed to make it absolutely clear what the teacher requires. When the child is told ‘no’, what the teacher actually should say (if applicable) is, ‘Your answer is correct, but that’s not what I meant’. Instead, the usual response is ‘No,’ sub-text: you’re wrong.
- When Maths homework is set, the child must wait until the following day (at best) in order to discover whether or not he/she has been on the right track.
- It takes time to mark tests and by the time these are returned, most children are disengaged from the problems set and insufficiently motivated to thoroughly absorb the correct answers.
Many children (and adults) learn far more quickly when shown an error immediately while they’re engaged with the problem.
Computer games are the champions of instant feedback. As a consequence, many children (and adults) can sit for hours playing computer games.They seem oblivious to the world around them and concentrate fiercely.
Computer games rely on the elements of autonomy and a desire to achieve mastery by reaching the highest level. Even more important is their ability to provide instant feedback. Successful progress is made easy by explicit navigation on the screen and feedback is often provided in spectacular explosions when the wrong choice is made. The whole point is that the feedback is instant. The gamer is immediately aware of the error and can begin again. The result is that learning takes place as quickly as the player responds.
With a single teacher in the class, it’s almost impossible to provide the quick feedback that accelerates learning and keeps motivation high. St Peter’s uses an array of mechanisms to respond more quickly to children’s efforts:
- Class discussions provide instant feedback to all those involved.
- Some online teaching programmes, especially in Maths, give effective feedback.
- Peer instruction: using children who have grasped the concept to assist those who haven’t.
- Grouping pupils to solve problems.
More recently staff have begun embedding lessons in Minecraft, the highly praised computer game. In addition to providing feedback, the game encourages creativity as well as infinite opportunities for problem-solving. The provision of instant feedback is a concept on which we will continue to focus.