When I think about the most important part of the learning process, the word that comes readily to mind is feedback. Imagine trying to accomplish a task without feedback. In fact, from the perspective of a biologist, who taught HS biology for many years, feedback is the most important variable in determining the success of any living organism.
In school and life, most of us are familiar with the kind of feedback that sounds like, “good job, great, you’re punctuation is terrible, you’re driving too fast, etc.” Educators call this kind of feedback, extrinsic. This kind of feedback is also the basis behind every successful game show where the better you do, the more prizes you get.
However a much more meaningful form of feedback for learning is what educators call intrinsic. This kind of feedback emerges from your assessment of your progress (not the person in the backseat of the car or the teacher) in meeting a target. So if your car starts to drift off the road and begins running on the warning groves, you don’t need someone to tell you to turn back to the center of the lane. In fact some drivers consider this kind of feedback distracting if not a nuisance. Behind the wheel, with a complete picture of the world outside, you are already well positioned to take corrective action, as well as determine the degree of correction that is necessary.
Now what if lessons looked more like driving instead of a game show? So here’s my recommendation for educators: Downplay extrinsic feedback as it tends to undermine the student’s responsibility in judging their progress toward educational goals, and look for opportunities to redesign activities so that students and their peers can assume more responsibility in assessing their progress in reaching an educational goal.
Next time I’ll differentiate between educational goals, as described in teaching manuals and standards, and student goals. They may sound similar to you and those who write curricula, but I guarantee there is an important difference that needs to be addressed if education is to be meaningful to students.
Professor and Director
SW Center for Mind, Brain and Education
The University of Texas at Arlington
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