Teacher-pupil feedback often hinders rather than helps

Feedback to primary school children from teachers is mainly given in a directive way and less frequently in a facilitative or encouraging way. This is one of the findings of a study conducted by Linda van den Bergh from Eindhoven University of Technology and her collaborators Anje Ros from Fontys University of Applied Sciences, and Douwe Beijaard from Eindhoven University of Technology.

The findings are published today, Friday 4 May 2012, in our Journal of Educational Psychology (BJEP). They suggest that most feedback given by teachers to primary school children during active learning is focused on the task that is being performed but mostly unrelated to an explicit learning goal.

The researchers observed 1465 teacher-pupil interactions among 32 teachers in sixth, seventh, and eight grade Dutch primary classes. A category system based on the research literature and on empirical findings was used to code teacher-pupil interactions in relation to feedback during environmental studies lessons which involve active learning.

Approximately half of the teacher-pupil interactions were found to include guidance and feedback. These interactions were mainly focused on the task in hand but only five percent of the feedback was related to an explicit learning goal. The researchers found that teachers were mainly directing rather than facilitating or encouraging the learning process in the feedback they gave to pupils.  

Van den Bergh said: “One significant difference that emerged between theory and practice was the fact that feedback that was explicitly related to a standard or a learning goal appeared to be rather uncommon in the classrooms. Although the connection of feedback to a learning goal is a crucial element of how feedback is defined, in practice it was observed in less than five percent of teacher-pupil interactions.”

The researchers observed very little feedback that related to the use of various strategies to aid problem solving and learning. There was also very little feedback on how pupils interacted with their peers.

Van den Bergh points out that the literature suggests that these two types of feedback are deemed highly important for learning. She concluded: “More attention to feedback that is explicitly related to a clear learning goal that is communicated to the pupils, and more feedback focused on use of strategies to aid learning and peer interactions during learning is advisable to enhance the learning process.”