Improve Your Students' Learning by Improving Your Feedback

Article excerpt

IT IS IN OUR NATURE AS TEACHERS to want to provide our students with every morsel of hard-earned insight, advice, and direction that we have gleaned throughout our teaching and performing careers. Our students, too, expect that information to be freely and frequently dispensed. These are not unrealistic expectations of the student-teacher relationship; after all, we have much to offer and our students are eagerly sacrificing time and (usually) money to learn. However, in our haste to direct our students' progress, we may be missing the fact that the manner in which our information is shared with our students affects the success of that endeavor as much as does the accuracy of the information itself.

Much has been written in this column regarding advances in understanding in the fields of motor learning theory and cognitive science, and how that understanding might influence the way that we teach in our studios.1 Perhaps none of these findings are more directly applicable to our studio teaching than those regarding what information we provide and how that information is packaged and delivered to our students. In fact, Richard Schmidt notes that "most writers agree that such information is the single most important variable (except, of course, for practice itself) for motor learning."2 In motor learning terms, this information is referred to as feedback, and there are many questions that we should ask ourselves regarding the feedback we provide. Answering questions such as what counts as feedback, what purpose it serves, when to provide feedback, and how much and what information to include in feedback, can positively affect the results of our teaching.

WHAT COUNTS AS FEEDBACK?

In its broadest motor learning sense, feedback refers to any information received by the learner before, during, and after an attempt to perform a task.3 Using this definition, students receive a substantial amount of feedback with every attempt, some of which is not related to the task being attempted. While information that is not task-related (which may or may not be a distraction) does have interesting effects on the locus of attention in learners, we will focus only on task-related feedback.4 The feedback that is related to the task can be further subdivided several times according to its source and its content. Figure 1 provides a flowchart of those divisions.5

Task-related feedback can be divided into that which is available to the student before the attempt, and that which is available during or after the attempt. Even though information that is presented before the attempt is crucial for her/his planning and initiation of the task, our purpose is to discuss the feedback that is provided by the instructor in response to the student's attempt. Consequently, we will focus on feedback available during (concurrent feedback) and after the attempt (immediate and delayed feedback). Feedback available during and after the attempt can be divided into feedback that is received from either intrinsic or extrinsic sources, termed inherent and augmented feedback, respectively.6

Inherent feedback consists of sensory information that arises as a natural consequence of attempting to perform a task, and can be further divided into categories of either proprioceptive or exteroceptive feedback. Proprioceptive feedback is that sensory information received from sources within the learner's own body (primary sources being sensory receptors imbedded within the body tissues), while exteroceptive feedback refers to sensory information received from sources outside the body, the primary sources of which are vision and hearing.7

Augmented feedback consists of information, other than sensory, provided to the learner from any source outside of the learner's own body, such as a mechanical device or an instructor. The instruction that we provide to our students would generally fall under the category of augmented feedback. In order for it to be most beneficial, augmented feedback should provide information that the learner cannot receive on his/her own, without the aid of the outside information source, and should supplement the inherent feedback that the learner has already received. …