CDTL    Publications     Mailing List     About Brief


April 2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Motivating Students by Providing Feedback
Associate Professor Ip Yuen Kwong
Associate Director, CDTL
Department of Biological Sciences

The Teacher as a Facilitator of Students' Learning

Learning involves selecting relevant information and interpreting it through one's existing knowledge. Accordingly, the teacher becomes a participant with the learner in a shared process of cognition (i.e. constructing meaning in a given situation). Thus, instruction is geared toward helping the student to develop learning and thinking strategies that are appropriate for working within various subject domains.

As facilitators of learning, teachers engage in various activities including:

  • creating a supportive, caring atmosphere for learning,
  • promoting discussion in the classroom,
  • finding out what the students are thinking,
  • helping students clarify and reflect upon their own ideas,
  • challenging students' ideas,
  • encouraging students to find answers for themselves and 'getting them to think',
  • giving feedback,
  • motivating and stimulating students to learn (e.g. by giving positive feedback).

Monitoring students' thinking processes, giving them feedback and motivating them to learn are not only very important tasks of a facilitator, but they are also intimately related. Traditionally, tests and examinations evaluate how students perform in terms of learning outcome. However in a learner-centred education system, it is more important to monitor students' learning processes and to give them direct feedback. Such feedback can help students learn more efficiently; and if used correctly, feedback can function as a very powerful tool to motivate students to learn. Consequently, monitoring students' learning processes demands the teacher's 'awareness and control' (or metacognition) of his/her own teaching.

Metacognition, Self-reflection, and Monitoring

Teaching is basically an intellectual task. It is essential for teachers to be aware of one's place in a long sequence of operations, e.g. knowing when a sub-goal has been achieved, detecting errors and recovering from those errors, looking ahead and looking back. To know whether a sub-goal has been reached in the classroom means information must be obtained from the students. If we accept the concept of 'learning as a construction of knowledge', a teacher should gather information on students' learning processes as they learn in the classroom rather than information on students' learning outcomes at the end of the lecture or at a much later stage during tests or examinations.

Superior teaching involves 'metacognition' on the teacher's part. A teacher acts metacognitively (i.e. beyond the cognitive) when he/she appraises students' reactions and then correspondingly adjusts his/her instructional input. It is as if the teacher activates a 'freeze frame' on his/her teaching in the classroom, steps back and takes a second look at what is going on. This activity in the teacher's mind allows both the formulation of measures to correct the situation, and feedback to students that is necessary to facilitate their learning. To gauge a students' learning process, a teacher must check certain 'indicators of learning' such as:

  • level of interest and enjoyment,
  • level of involvement and ownership,
  • willingness to inquire and ability to ask critical questions,
  • on-task behaviour,
  • quality of discussion of ideas among students and teacher,
  • learning-to-learn skills,
  • transfer and linking of ideas,
  • openness to new concepts,
  • willingness to ascertain initial hypotheses and subsequent viewpoints.

Of the above measures, questioning can be considered as the most effective tool to monitor how students learn. Questioning involves those questions that the teacher raises to the students, and those that the students ask in order to seek clarification. The types of questions a teacher poses to students and how the teacher sequences these questions should capture students' attention, arouse their curiosity, reinforce important points, and promote active learning. But being responsive to student questioning is just as important. Traditionally, teachers undertake monitoring through evaluating students' answers to their questions. In contrast, a superior teacher not only allows, but also encourages/provokes students to ask questions. This is because much information can be gathered on students' learning process by evaluating the nature and quality of questions raised.

Feedback as a Motivational Factor

Within the context of education, there are two possible interpretations of 'feedback'. In the instructional paradigm, it is important for the teacher to obtain students' opinions about the quality of his/her teaching. In the learning paradigm, after gathering information on the students' learning process, it is essential for the teacher to reflect and then give his/her views on what he/she has observed back to the students.

Although feedback can be given to an individual, a group of students, or the whole class, it is more efficient if the entire class is privy to the monitoring process and feedback so that students can learn from one another. Direct feedback is also vital. The longer the delay between work and feedback, the less effective the feedback becomes. Ideally, feedback should be provided within minutes after finishing a task (and no longer than 24 hours after the task's completion), or immediately after a student asks or has answered a question. When students learn new skills, feedback should be provided as frequently as possible (e.g. after each problem/succeeding stage of complexity faced) to be maximally effective so that students can steadily become more proficient with the new material/methods.

A positive approach should also be employed when providing students with feedback on their mistakes. Positive feedback generally provides more information than negative feedback, and strengthens a student's motivation and self-confidence. For example, students can be told when they have succeeded in decreasing the number of errors made on a worksheet. One effective method to help a student decrease his error rate is to prompt him/her to realise the mistake made and articulate what went wrong, and then to guide him/her to understand how to arrive at a 'correct' or ideal response.

Whether feedback is given continuously or differentially influences its efficiency. When continuous feedback is employed, students receive feedback on their performance each time they perform a given task whereas differential feedback is only provided when a student performs better on the task. One advantage that differential feedback offers over continuous feedback is that it places the major emphasis on improvement rather than upon a student's absolute level of achievement. Hence, all students have a near equal chance of obtaining recognition.

 First Look articles

Search in
Email the Editor
Inside this issue
Motivating Students by Providing Feedback
Motivating Students to Learn: Stories, Questions and Students' Names
Motivating Students Taking CFM and GER Modules