The Best Learning Motivator EVER!

Teacher feedback - Brain based learning

Quick: Name the Best Learning Motivator EVER!

Whether you’re an instructional coach, administrator, counselor or classroom teacher, you are asked to motivate. All of us adults can find our own energy or motivation dropping at times. There’s one factor, when used with another co-factor, that makes the highest contribution to motivation. The secret to motivation is…

The Research

The factor that has one of the greatest effects on student achievement is on-going feedback. The type, duration, form, intensity and developmental appropriateness of feedback could fill volumes. But, on a raw level, some feedback is usually better than none at all.

One way to measure the power of an applied strategy is by using an effect size.

Effect size is simply a number that represents a standardized gain or loss. In football, the standardized gain is scoring a point, whether it’s a touchdown, safety or field goal. This applies to middle school, high school, college and pro football. In educational statistics, most effect sizes fall between 0.00 (low) and 2.00 (high). About half of all interventions fall below 0.40 and about half are above the mark. This is a loose benchmark figure or “standard” from which to judge the various influences on student achievement, such as that of feedback.

When you cluster the “same topic” studies together and average their scores, you get meta-studies. More than a dozen meta-analyses (from 196 studies) have been included in this data on feedback. The average effect size for feedback was nearly 0.80, which is nearly double the effect of everything else. It’s also in the top 5% of all interventions (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). AND that high effect size contains some studies which used feedback ineffectively! So, when done well, the impact is H-U-G-E!

A solid definition of feedback is: Useful, consequential information provided by any agent (computer, experience, peer, teacher, etc.) about how one is doing in reference to a goal.

When done well it is:

a) accurate
b) actionable
c) specific
d) timely
e) non-offensive, even supportive
f) in the context of the goal in mind

This helps you understand WHY nearly ANY feedback-driven strategy (a smile, an affirmation, a note, a discussion or even quizzes), will support greater achievement (Logan et al., 2011).

By the way, earlier I said this factor is most powerful when used with another “co-factor.” That co-factor is from the September monthly bulletin: it’s “Gaudy Goals.” In short, feedback is better received (and acted upon) when the feedback is supporting an agreed-upon target goal that is, itself, exciting. That’s where the “Gaudy Goals” come in.

Practical Applications

Poverty Teaching

Your ideal feedback is that which helps answer the student’s 3 BIG questions (Hattie & Timperely, 2007). They each are addressing the “student gaps.” The three Qs are:

1) “How am I doing at the moment?” (relative to the goals)

2) If things continue, “Where am I going?” (predict the path)

3) “What do I do next? (support their success strategies) means the student needs actionable feedback. Here we help provide remediation in the form of alternative insights, attitude, strategies or effort.

Let’s “flesh out” the learning above.

Here are the ideal types of “high success” feedback:

  • Predictive or corrective cues for strategies
  • Reinforcements
  • Corrective video, audio and computer information
  • Diagnostic feedback (e.g. “autopsies” on a quiz or test)
  • Student generated (rubrics, peers, discussion or checklists)
  • Brief, targeted quizzes (student or teacher generated); then debriefed
  • Specific teacher feedback with a supportive affirmation
  • Use of rewards (monetary, gifts or privileges)
  • BTW…Least effective of all feedback is simply teacher praise (“Good job! You’re so smart!”)

By the way, the list above is in order, from most to least effective. Research suggests that the absolute best and most effective form of feedback provides cues or reinforcement to learners. (“Eric, be sure you always put these on the left side of the equation when you see this type of problem”).

Next best are those in the form of video, audio or computer-assisted instructional feedback (these are impersonal). All feedback that relates to the goals of the process (“When you stay positive, like you are now, you’ll finish up faster and more accurately. You will be done before you know it”). Also, it’s better than those that are more random and unconnected to goals (“Ouch! You guessed far too low. Go ahead and bump up that guess WAY higher.”).

Those tangible rewards (gifts, coupons, toys, etc.) significantly undermine intrinsic motivation over the long haul. But, in the short term (if used VERY temporarily), they can serve a purpose. Rewards HURT motivation most for interesting tasks (you’ll get a NEGATIVE effect size). On boring tasks, they can initiate effort.

Plus, when the feedback is given in a controlling manner (“You performed right where you should have based on your earlier test scores.”), the effects are also negative. Researchers have concluded that extrinsic rewards are typically negative because they “undermine people’s taking responsibility for motivating or regulating themselves”, meaning they ruin intrinsic effort.

By the way, when I do staff development, my own goal is that 100% of my audience members will get some type of feedback every 30 minutes or less, every day. Please make sure your own groups (kids or adults) get that much. You can do this… and it’s transformative in the lives of others!

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum.

Hattie, J.A. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77, 81-112.
Logan, J.M., Thompson, A.J. & Marshak, DW. (2011) Testing to enhance retention in human anatomy. Anat Sci Educ.

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