The advantage to publishing my blog on Thursdays is that I can read Marueen Mirabito’s blog, which she publishes on Tuesdays.  I find her blogs both informative and inspiring.  This week's blog, “The ticket to a stronger, better Leadership Team” hooked me right away, first because I am a baseball fan (and I don't know which ballpark that is).  More important, the first “practice” she highlighted was about Leadership Teams reading and rereading Wise Ways so they really understand what the research says.  So this week I want to go through that process with you.  Now I know we can’t do it in real time, so I’ll start the conversation and I’m hoping some of you will respond and we can create a dialogue.

 After a few blogs about issues such as coaching, the Summit, leadership, and collaboration, I wanted to refocus on classroom instruction.  So I selected Wise Ways #140, which states, “All teachers interact instructionally with students (explaining, checking, giving feedback).”  I began by rereading the Wise Ways with a focus on the issue of feedback. I admit I expected it to center on the teacher providing feedback to students and the accepted emphasis on feedback being timely and specific (Marzano, 2001, 2003).  Yet, in the second paragraph (following the Explanation and Questions), this emphasis was turned upside down citing John Hattie’s (2009) research, which concluded “feedback was most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher.”  

He goes on to state, “When teachers seek, or at least are open to, feedback from the students as to what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when the have misconceptions, when they are not engaged – then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful.” (Hattie, 2009, p.173)

As I continued reading the Wise Ways, it described feedback as a two-way interaction between the teacher and the student. When this interaction is positive, it builds trust and the student is willing to make errors and continue trying.  As a result, the student develops confidence.

 Finally, the nature of the feedback was addressed.  As I expected, general feedback like, “Good” or “No, you’re wrong” is not informative and does not lead to improved learning.

 The great thing about the Wise Ways is that there are always references and resources listed at the end.  In addition, we each know of resources that we have used in the past related to these topics.  So I went to the Hattie 2009 resource, Visible Learning. 

I first went to the back of the book because I know he ranks the interventions by effect size. He lists 138 interventions and feedback was 10th highest rated with an effect size of 0.73.  Extremely impressive!

I went to the Index and then read all the references to gain greater insight about this topic of feedback. I’ll summarize some key points, with my comments following. (I’d really like to hear your comments, too!)  Each of these quotes is based on Hattie’s meta-analyses or individual studies in which he has confidence:

 “ … it is critical to ensure that “errors” are welcomed, as they are key levers for enhancing learning.” (p. 4)

 I started with this one because it speaks to the culture of the classroom. It relates directly back to the Wise Ways point about this being a two-way interaction that provides support for the student and makes making errors OK.  If kids are afraid to make errors, they will only do what is safe and this will limit and stifle their progress.

  • “ Specifically, feedback is more effective when it provides information on correct rather than incorrect responses …” (p. 175)
  •  “ … it is the feedback to the teacher about what students can and cannot do that is more powerful than feedback to the student…” (p. 4)

I combined these two findings because they both focus on what students “can” do, rather than what they can’t. I remember when I was a classroom teacher, sometimes finding myself focused on all the things students couldn't do and providing instruction or feedback about these things.  Only when I realized that it was more productive to highlight what the students did correctly and build from those successes did I understand the power of this finding.  Later, when I received Reading Recovery training, I was able to help the students recognize their strengths and use them to develop other areas.

  “… when feedback is combined with a correctional review, feedback and instruction become intertwined until ‘the process itself takes on the forms of new instruction, rather than informing the student solely about correctness.’ ” (p. 174)

 I think the previous comments about providing feedback about what the students can do applies here to the phrase “correctional review”. When we hear this phrase it might imply that we are providing feedback about errors and what the students did incorrectly.  But I think the phrase implies providing feedback about both what the students can do, as well as what they cannot do, as the research indicates. Marzano (2001) addresses this issue directly. He says that feedback should be “corrective” in nature and goes on to clarify that “This means that it provides students with an explanation of what they are doing that is correct and what they are doing that is not correct.”( p. 96)

  • “ …Programmed instruction, praise, punishment, and extrinsic rewards were the least effective forms of feedback for enhancing achievement.” (p. 174)

 I know. These are some sacred cows.  Stickers and gold stars are probably a multi-million dollar industry because we use them in our schools to reward students for everything from good behavior to achievement on assignments and tests.  Hattie cites a study (Deci, Koestner, and Ryan, 1999) that found a negative correlation between extrinsic rewards and task performance. He suggests that the extrinsic rewards actually undermined intrinsic motivation. I recommend Carol Dweck’s Mindset for a more thorough exploration of the issue of praise and motivation . 


  • “ … We need to be somewhat cautious, however.  Feedback is not ‘the answer’ to effective teaching and learning; rather it is but one powerful answer.” (p. 177)

Just as Robert Marzano cautions readers not to assume that his research-based strategies are “the answer”, Hattie provides the same caution.  Notice the use of the word “enhancing” in the statement, “I realized that the most powerful single influence enhancing achievement is feedback” (Bold mine).  The key fundamental factor is the instruction provided by the teacher. Feedback is the most powerful factor enhancing that instruction.

 “ … Feedback to students involves providing information and understanding about the tasks that make the difference in light of what the student already understands, misunderstands, and constructs.  Feedback from students to teachers involves information and understanding about the tasks that make the difference in light of what the teacher already understands, misunderstands, and constructs about the learning of his or her students.” (p. 238)

 I really like this quote, particularly the second part about feedback from the student.  A phrase used in the Wise Ways really resonates here.  It’s the teacher’s “withitness” that implies the teacher is an astute observer of everything going on in the classroom. This observation can take the form of scanning the room, asking a question, probing for understanding, providing and analyzing a formative assessment, or picking up on a student’s body language, among other things. The key is for the teacher to be open to the information being received and then knowing what to do next – to move on, to reteach, to extend the learning.  And that’s the challenge of good teaching.    

 Now it’s your turn. Let’s start a dialogue.

     What is your reaction to the ideas I’ve presented in this blog?

     Which ideas resonate with you?

     Which ideas are challenging?

     What have you found to be successful in providing feedback?

There are a number of ways you can respond, as long as you are a member and have signed in:

  1. You can write a comment at the bottom of the blog.
  2. You can respond in the Your Reflections or Share Your Stuff tabs at the top of the page. When you open either tab, click the blue plus (+) sign at the top right of the screen.  Then create a title, write your comment in the text box, select or enter a “Tag” to identify what your topic is about, and then press the red “Publish” button at the bottom.  It’s that easy!

 Hope to “see” you soon on IndistarConnect!

 References and Resources 

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. Abington. Oxdon: Routledge.

Marzano, R., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom Instruction That Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. 

Marzano, R. (2003). What Works In Schools. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. 

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Paul Axtell

With more than thirty years of experience helping organizations and individuals be more effective, Paul Axtell has honed his insights in executive offices and training programs for everyone from office staff and line workers to managers and team leaders.

A large focus of his work is how to run effective and productive meetings—to turn them from something people dread into useful, productive sessions with trackable results.

Paul is the author of multiple books, including Meetings Matter: 8 Powerful Strategies for Remarkable Conversations, Being Remarkable, and Ten Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids. He can be reached at <a href="http://www.paulaxtell.com">www.paulaxtell.com</a> and via email at paulaxtell@mac.com.
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