How teachers can close the learning gap: With meaningful feedback, not just grades

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Updated: May 28, 2018 1:12 AM

Using specialised diagnostic tools, teachers can close the learning gap, rather than conducting assessments and analysing results

Meaningful feedback, therefore, is a concept studied by various researchers. Meaningful feedback, therefore, is a concept studied by various researchers.

Imagine you go to a doctor for a routine health check up. After diagnosis, the doctor tells that you have an unhealthy lifestyle and you must change that. She then suggests three options—take care of your health; do any physical activity; walk briskly for 30 minutes every morning as your job is sedentary. Which advice would you find the most meaningful?

The first advice is too broad and something you already know; hence adds no value. The second does provide a solution, but it falls short of creating an impact as it does not tell you what needs to be done. However, the third is specific—it identifies the gap and tells you exactly what you need to do given your circumstances, making it the most impactful advice.

Let’s apply the same principle to a classroom. Maya, Santosh and Neha are grade-five students in different schools. They appear for their term exams, and all three score 40% in mathematics. Their respective teachers evaluate their performance and provide feedback in different ways. Maya is asked to study harder to score better marks. Santosh’s teacher asks him to focus more on studying mathematics as he had scored less in it. Neha’s teacher says, “You struggled with two-digit subtraction with carryover,” and then gives her remedial worksheets to improve her two-digit subtraction concept. Similar to the doctor’s example, the feedback provided to Neha is specific and meaningful, which, along with the remedial sheets, has the power to impact Neha’s learning.

Meaningful feedback, therefore, is a concept studied by various researchers. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) says, “A teacher would collect, analyse and interpret a student’s performance on various measures of the assessment to come to an understanding of the extent and nature of a student’s learning in different domains.” The NCF also mentions that impactful learning takes place when a teacher provides timely feedback and suggests corrective action to a learner after understanding his/her performance.

John Hattie and Helen Timperley from the University of Auckland conceptually analysed feedback and reviewed the evidence of feedback’s impact on learning and achievements. “Feedback needs to provide information specifically relating to the task or process of learning that fills a gap between what is understood and what is aimed to be understood (‘The Power of Feedback’; Hattie and Timperley, 2007).” The next question is, “When is feedback most meaningful?” To find out the effectiveness of feedback, Hattie synthesised results of over 180,000 studies and found that the highest effect involved students receiving information feedback about a specific task and guidance on how to do it more effectively. Praise, rewards and punishments had a lesser effect. The study also emphasises the importance of ensuring that feedback is targeted at individual students and that it must be specific to impact their learning.

Multiple studies, different articles and the pilot we ran all point towards the importance of meaningful feedback. Providing feedback that is specific, caters to the student who is receiving it, and tells clearly what needs to be done is the need of the hour. This will not only increase self-awareness in a child, but will also bridge the learning gap, thereby making the teaching-learning process more effective.

To make this happen, we need the right set of diagnostic tools, which can effectively and efficiently help teachers understand the strengths and areas of improvement of each and every student. Such tools would ensure that teachers spend most of their time in communicating and closing the learning gap, rather than conducting assessments and analysing results. With such tools and committed teachers, we can ensure that meaningful feedback is provided to every student consistently, leading to maximum learning.

By Venkata Vinay
The author is academic lead, IMAX Program, a personalised education start-up

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