Students, parents, as well as teachers, place great importance on grades and marks. However, these numbers can be interpreted in different ways. What if a student achieves 90 marks? What is the meaning of 90 marks?
The Impact of Feedback
Feedback is an important part of the learning process. We all know from experience that the manner in which feedback is given affects the way it is received. The impact of teachers’ feedback can go both ways, that is, positive or negative.
In the learning context, feedback usually follows a test or an assessment. Often, teachers look at the raw scores alone to tell how well their students did. But different teachers may interpret the numbers differently. This, in turn, affects the kind of feedback they give to students.
Feedback has powerful influences on students’ learning because it serves as a basis for self-evaluation of ability and self-regulation of learning behaviour, thereby affecting achievement.
A research team made up of Dr Nie Youyan, Dr Zhou Mingming and Ms Chua Bee Leng from NIE’s Psychological Studies Academic Group is currently studying the consequences of feedback on students’ learning. We asked them to give us an overview of the different types of feedback.
Types of Feedback
To provide feedback, we must first try to make sense of the students’ test performance.
“The accurate interpretation of marks needs a reference point. Teachers can select different reference points and interpret the meaning of these marks to students in different ways,” says Youyan.
The reference point could be others, a criterion, or self. There are three types of feedback: norm-referenced feedback, criterion-referenced feedback, and self-referenced feedback, depending on what the reference point is.
- Norm-referenced feedback provides information on the relative comparison of student achievement with others.
- Criterion-referenced feedback provides information by comparing student achievement with a learning target or standard.
- Self-referenced feedback provides information on how much students have improved by comparing their achievement with their past achievements.
For the student who scores 90 marks, for example, norm-referenced feedback could be: “Very good, you are the top student in the class.”
When giving criterion-referenced feedback, you might say, “Very good, you have mastered nearly all that I have taught.” Or it could be self-referenced feedback: “Very good, you have achieved better results as compared to the last test.”
Feeding Back into Learning
Norm-referenced feedback is a common classroom practice, especially in Asian countries with highly competitive education systems. Most high-stakes standardized assessments use norm-referencing.
If applied prudently, norm-referenced feedback allows students to accurately gauge how they did compared to their peers. This helps them and their teachers to judge and steer their further learning and development.
However, norm-referenced feedback can also negatively affect students’ motivation to learn, and should thus be used with caution. Especially for low-ability students, it may increase their test anxiety and avoidance in learning.
– Nie Youyan, Psychological Studies Academic Group
The project that the research team is doing now will look at how criterion-referenced and self-referenced feedback can be used to promote learning as well as to create enjoyable learning experiences for students.
“Teachers should be mindful when giving feedback to their students in order to protect and enhance, rather than decrease, students’ motivation and engagement in learning,” says Youyan.
Their research has just begun, but they hope that in time to come, their work will raise teachers’ awareness of how feedback can have on students’ learning. By learning how to buffer the side effects of norm-referenced feedback, and being able to use other effective feedback strategies, teachers can positively impact students’ motivation and achievement.
So the next time you look at your students’ grades and want to comment on how they’ve done, pause for just for a while to consider the impact you want to have on their learning.