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Teacher feedback can have a huge influence on student learning. Teachers who provide what students perceive to be unfair feedback can destroy students’ learning motivation. And it doesn’t take long for a demotivating teacher to discourage student interest, confidence as well as effort in a subject. Demotivated students think ‘why should I bother?’
Assessment is a core academic activity and an essential component Assessment is a core academic activity and an essential component of the learning process. Whatever the method of assessment used, it should be fair, relevant, meaningful and provide students with constructive feedback about their progress and help them improve i.e. have an educative purpose. Professor Nita Temmerman, Australia, presents three articles in Lucubrate Magazine that look at the area of student assessment against these principles. The first considers the issue of group assessment, the second looks at single high-stake exams as a form of assessment and the third teacher feedback as part of the assessment process.
Let’s consider the following two real-life examples and the impact both had.
How could you have ‘got it so wrong’.
The first example was an assessment task, which asked students to provide their own interpretation of why a particular Shakespearean character had behaved the way he did. The instructor stressed the importance of including originality of ideas in the response along with evidence to support their explanation. The class had studied the play and some considerable discussion had ensued in tutorial sessions with the instructor about the play’s characters including this key character.
The student received a reasonable (not outstanding) mark for the assignment along with feedback from the instructor. It was the feedback that concerned the student more so than the mark, but the student surmised that the two were obviously connected. The feedback was critical of the students’ response to the question. The instructor took what could only be described as personal umbrage with the student’s interpretation, which contradicted what the teacher had shared in class, as his view. The feedback questioned how the student could have ‘got it so wrong’. The message the student took away was – the only original interpretation worth presenting is one that is in complete accord with the teacher…so ‘why bother thinking, reflecting, researching, being creative, taking risks…’
The student allowed me to read his assignment and I found it an impressive piece of work. The arguments presented were clear, cogent and well supported and there certainly was originality of ideas. What I noticed was that the instructor had provided no feedback at all about any of these elements, focusing pretty much exclusively on the actual interpretation itself. The effect was a demotivated student ready to walk away from a subject that he showed immense aptitude in and enthusiasm for.
The Instructor can Easy Demotivate Very Capable Students
The second example was a student whose physiology class was asked to write an essay/paper on a medical related topic for which he had to critique the latest developments/breakthroughs based on the most recent research. The student in question decided to contact a senior medical researcher who he knew was working in the area to request recent research papers or research examples he might know to support his preparation of the assignment paper. The senior scientist obliged by providing copies of papers that had been accepted for journal publication in the upcoming next edition of that international journal – in other words not yet in public circulation.
When the paper came back marked, the student’s feedback included what the student translated as a reprimand for including references the teacher was not aware of and for, what the student translated as the teacher saying he was ‘showing off’. The student had felt he was displaying initiative by going to a highly respected primary source and including the most up-to-the-minute research on the topic. The message received seemed totally contrary to what had been told to the class multiple times over, namely to source reputable contemporary research. Again – regardless of intention, the instructor had demotivated a very capable student and had also lessened his own credibility with the student who sensed that the instructor was threatened by his contact in the field and his (superior) resulting knowledge about this one particular topic.
Feedback should never shame students or make them fear trying.
A very big part of a teacher’s job is to help students achieve their potential. Feedback that is unfair and not linked to stated assessment criteria works against this happening. If the criteria states marks will be based on original ideas it is not constructive or fair to found marks and feedback on structural/ organizational/mechanical elements such as grammar and spelling and ignore originality of argument. If the task encourages students to take risks or experiment then make sure the grade and feedback reflect how well they have achieved that i.e. align feedback with the stated assessment criteria.
Feedback should never shame students or make them fear trying. It should also not be used to admonish students or for teachers to grandstand. Feedback should be about helping students progress in their learning. It’s hard to imagine how a demotivated student can successfully achieve this!
Lucubrate Magazine February 2022
The photo on the top of the article: Adobe Stock