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Developing Students' Higher-Order Thinking
June 6, 2013 | Volume 8 | Issue 18
Table of Contents
Supporting Self-Directed Learners
Five Forms of Feedback
Arthur L. Costa and Robert J. Garmston
When a teacher's goal is to enhance students' capacity for self-directedness, the how and why of providing feedback is crucial. Here are five forms of feedback, presented in descending order of their effectiveness in growing self-directedness.
1. Reflective questioning. This is the most instrumental type of feedback in promoting self-directed learning and growth. Posing mediating questions has the highest potential for developing self-directedness, as the intent is to alert the students to the data that will serve to provide self-feedback, process that feedback, construct meaning from it, and set goals to self-modify as needed to achieve desired results.
Here are some examples of mediating questions to ask students:
2. Nonjudgmental data. A teacher may serve as another set of eyes by collecting and providing data for students. In this type of feedback, the teacher has a project-planning conversation with a student and asks her what data she would like to be collected from her presentation. Afterward, the teacher provides the data in a nonjudgmental manner. The purpose of the feedback is to encourage the student to reflect on and interpret the data—draw comparisons and make inferences—and apply this interpretation to future projects or tasks.
Examples of nonjudgmental feedback data might include these statements:
3. Inferences, causality, and interpretations. This type of feedback has a limited value for learning because the criteria for judgment are missing from the teacher's evaluation. The teacher may make his own interpretations of the lesson or state a causal relationship. Therefore, the students have only the teacher's opinion to go on.
In this type of feedback, the statements are from the teacher's point of view. For example:
When the teacher makes such statements, it usurps the self-directedness of the students. A higher degree of self-directedness is achieved when the teacher invites the students to make such causal relationships, inferences, and interpretations for themselves.
4. Personal opinions and preferences. This type of feedback is generally better at building rapport than enhancing a student's capacity for self-directedness because the feedback is based on the teacher's perspective. The teacher states his own opinion or likes and dislikes.
Examples of this type of feedback include the following statements:
Statements like these are useful at the beginning of a feedback conversation, but when they slip into evaluation, they can be counterproductive. These types of statements can build dependency on the teacher because they suggest that the students should give presentations in a way that pleases the teacher. The students may conclude that success of the project or presentation depends on the likes and dislikes of the teacher rather than on whether the presentation or project achieved its intended outcomes.
5. Evaluations and judgments. Evaluative feedback makes the smallest contribution to learning and behavior change. When the teacher makes value-laden comments, this sends a signal that she is the final arbitrator of what is good or bad. The teacher may think that making judgments—either positive or negative—is helpful or reinforcing for students, but the opposite is true. Such comments shift the focus from feedback to evaluation.
The following statements are examples of this type of feedback:
While positive statements may have the effect of making the students feel good, they also signal that if the teacher can make positive judgments, she can also make negative judgments—and the student is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Negative statements are most often remembered, but they have little value in changing behavior. Instead, they cause mistrust, deplete creativity, and create fear. Such comments halt self-directedness and self-evaluation in students.
It is also important to consider the use of praise and rewards in the classroom. Praise uses positive value judgments, such as "good," "excellent," and "great" Although praise has always been considered appropriate for shaping some simple learnings and behaviors (Costa & Kallick, 2009, pp. 104–106), questions linger about using praise as psychological candy.
One argument against using praise to shape behavior is that it can be counterproductive. For instance, excessive praise actually can reduce enthusiasm rather than reinforce it. In a classic study, Mary Budd Rowe (1974) found that elementary students who were frequently praised by their teachers showed less task persistence than their peers. Unfortunately, many students lack motivation, and some teachers use rewards to try and instill motivation. But giving rewards is not the entire answer, either.
John Hattie (2012, p. 121) concludes, "Praise includes little information about performance on the task and praise provides little help in answering the three feedback questions: Where am I going? How am I doing? Where should I go next?" And according to Sanford (1995), judgmental feedback reduces the capabilities of self-reflection and self-assessment, reinforces the pattern that others will and should tell us how we are doing, and reduces our capacity to be self-reflective and self-accountable.
In conclusion, posing mediating questions and providing nonjudgmental data are the most supportive of self-directedness. Making interpretations, causal relationships, and inferences—along with personal opinions and value judgments—rob students of performing those cognitive processes for themselves. Therefore, they should be minimized or avoided.
Feedback for Learning
Successful people and organizations are in a continuous learning mode. Their confidence, in combination with their inquisitiveness, allows them to constantly search for new and better ways. Our wish is for creative students who are eager to learn. Having this disposition means always striving for improvement, always growing, always learning, always modifying. Experiencing problems, situations, tensions, conflicts, and circumstances provides valuable opportunities to gather feedback and to learn.
Costa, A., & Kallick, B. (2009). Learning and leading with habits of mind. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.
Rowe, M. B. (1974). Relation of wait-time and rewards to the development of language, logic, and fate control: Part II–rewards. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 11(4), 291–308.
Sanford, C. (1995). Myths of organizational effectiveness at work. Battle Ground, WA: Springhill.
Arthur L. Costa is an emeritus professor of education at California State University, Sacramento, where he taught graduate courses to teachers and administrators in curriculum, supervision, and the improvement of instruction. He is coauthor of Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools and Techniques for Teaching Thinking. Costa served as president of California ASCD and as President of ASCD from 1988 to 1989.
Robert J. Garmston is an emeritus professor of educational administration at California State University, Sacramento; founder of Facilitation Associates; and cofounder of the Center for Cognitive Coaching and of the Center for Adaptive Schools. Garmston has written and coauthored a number of books, including Cognitive Coaching: A Foundation for Renaissance Schools; How to Make Presentations That Teach and Transform; The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Collaborative Groups; and Unlocking Group Potential for School Improvement.
ASCD Express, Vol. 8, No. 18. Copyright 2013 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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