Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort?

I started to explore how we might make feedback more meaningful a few weeks back but then got sidetracked. If you haven’t already looked at them, it might be worth spending a few moments on Part 1 (which discusses the different purposes for giving feedback) and Part 2 (which looks at how to increase pupils’ understanding) before reading any further.

Right. Still with me? Once we can be reasonably sure that pupils understand how to improve, our next step is to check that they can actually be bothered. It’s become something of a cliché to say that success depends on hard work, but essentially that’s the message we need to convey.

Tragically, far too many pupils would rather be seen as lazy than stupid. It’s much more preferable not to try because then you have an excuse for failure: “Of course I could’ve done it, but I couldn’t be arsed.” Why is this considered so much more socially acceptable? Well, that’s actually fairly straightforward. Most people see effort as something that is transient but intelligence as something that is fixed. It seems obvious that if we believe we can’t get clever then it might not make much sense to try.

But we know not true, don’t we? We readily accept that training improves sporting performance and that music and drama improve with rehearsal. Why is it that so many of are so convinced that practice won’t make us smarter?

In Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan Wiliam explores the effects of effort in forensic detail and synthesises the results of many different studies to arrive at some sensible conclusions. The table below is the result of a survey designed to discover why pupils invest effort and understand to what they attribute their success.

From Butler (1987)

Butler (1987) in Embedded Formative Assessment p 110

What would seem clear from this is that if our feedback is to have any impact on learning it must be directed at the task rather than at the pupil themselves. The research of Kluger & DeNisi confirms this supposition. They suggest that future research on feedback ought to focus less on the impact it has on performance and more on the sorts of responses triggered in pupils when they’re given feedback. And, as luck would have it, Carol Dweck has spent her career doing exactly that.

Dweck posited that our perceptions of success or failure are dependent of three factors:

  • Personalisation: the extent to which we believe success is influenced by internal or external factors
  • Stability: whether success is perceived to be transient or long-lasting
  • Specificity: whether success is one are is interpreted as being likely to lead success in other areas.
Embedded Formative Assessment p 117

Dweck (2000) in Embedded Formative Assessment p 117

This suggests that if our purpose for giving feedback is prompt pupils to make greater effort we need to do the following:

  1. Target feedback to increase task commitment
  2. Design feedback that will be attributed internal factors that pupils can control
  3. Design feedback that makes pupils consider unstable factors that are dependent on effort
  4. Make feedback as specific as possible (bit obvious this one!)

The point of all this, as Wiliam concludes, is for pupils to believe that “It’s up to me” (internal) and “I can do something about it” (unstable).

To that end, I’ve designed another handy flowchart to capture all of this advice:

Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 13.40.12

A separate but related issue is the use in schools of ‘effort grades’. I may blog about the extent to which these may or may not be useful on another occasion. If you’re keen on this do please let me know as I’m a sucker for requests.

In the meantime, the final instalment in this series will consider how to provide feedback that encourages those pupils who have met or exceeded goals to raise their aspirations.

19 Responses to Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort?

  1. […] feedback right Part 2: How do we provide clarity? Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort? Getting feedback right Part 4: How can we increase pupils’ […]

  2. Cazzwebbo says:

    Great theme… Very timely for my own situation with my students right now… I think I’d need to link it to behaviour management as well as wise use of class time…

  3. […] I started to explore how we might make feedback more meaningful a few weeks back but then got sidetracked.  […]

  4. BGilland says:

    Can you provide examples of quality feedback that addresses learned helplessness? This has been a huge struggle for me in my current school.

    • David Didau says:

      No – I’m not in a position to do that as I’m no longer based in a school. But I could could analyse some examples of feedback from your school if you’d like to send them to me.

  5. Jordan says:

    I am interested in effort grades, we have a system children putting P (Presentation), E (Effort) and Understanding (U); not sure they are affective though. I think the’yre tokenistic, and children often don’t engage with them. I prefer other forms of stimulating reflection.

  6. Marcus says:

    I have toyed with two ideas, the first is of just putting an ‘effort’ grade, which originally I thought was a good idea, however the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. The reason is I can’t see what thinking has gone on inside a students head, I can’t distinguish between somebody that has completed a lot of original work versus a student that has copied a lot of work. I felt the system was flawed in the fact that the amount of effort they put in was subjective.

    The second idea was to literally ask them for them to record the amount of time they spent on the work. I stopped doing this due to dishonesty.

    I am now in huge favour of putting no grades of any description (clearly leves or ‘achievement’ grades were less than useless anyway) inclusive of effort. I think all feedback should be in the language of the ‘growth’ mindset.

    • David Didau says:

      How interesting that pupils were dishonest about their effort. What was done with these grades?

      • Marcus says:

        Sorry for the delay in replying, David. At first it was sheer curiosity, a wonderment in how much time students were putting in at home. To see if there was any correlation between ‘time on task’ and learning. However, it started going awry when I started talking about what those that achieve well do. I spoke about them spending extra time on their homework compared to a student that wasn’t performing as well as I’d hoped. Then it got worse as allegations of students copying each other and making up the times, led to my data being considered worthless (by myself). However, I do think it’s an idea worth following, if the flaws can be ironed out.

  7. David Jones says:

    The learned helplessness type of comments may be tackled [amongst many ways] if your teaching/whole school in some cases, focus on the marginal gains/growth mind set approach-I know that it might be over-blown and possibly another trendy idea BUT in reality they are just new words for ‘when the going gets tough’ and a tad more-there is something in it and our kids have responded well. The marginal gains wheels of self-evaluation and RAG marking do make them focus on their weakest learning [the ones they bleat about in learned helplessness] and the step by step, little by little does work and offer a way to avoid the whine of “I can’t do it” Shout YET! [as at Huntington] Our students told me about great teaching and marking strategies here-if others find it useful-enjoy!

    I find these articles really useful for our staff discussions [along with Hattie’s chapter on feedback] and wish I had made the flow charts up myself! Thank you and hurry your book up-we’re doing a LAC conference in 2 weeks and I can flash it at our visitors!

    • David Didau says:

      Thanks David – am all in favour of teaching students about growth mindsets although I’ve seen it done with little understanding and this can lead to problems. Your approach sounds good.

      Book has entered some sort of vortex into an alternate reality. Sorry.

  8. dodiscimus says:

    These posts are terrific because they so clearly bring together a pile of really solid ideas from research with your own clarity about the implications. The flowchart on Part 2 is going out to my trainees (with credit) if that’s alright. You’ve sort of skirted round the “no grade marking” idea that Wiliam has pushed hard – is that deliberate? And can you just confirm that you are saying in Post 3, that if the pupil has tried hard and has no misunderstandings to correct, that this means they need to try even harder (and is that on the basis that although they might think the target is too difficult, it’s either set externally – GCSE – or the teacher will have made an appropriate judgement)?

    • David Didau says:

      Thank you – yes, please feel free to use any of the resources on the site.

      I’ve written extensively about the grading in the past and don’t feel I have anything new to say. Basically, as far as i can make out Wiliam is right.

      And yes, if a pupil has tried hard & has no misunderstandings they then need to raise their aspirations. Part 4 will be coming soon(ish)…

  9. I am very interested in effort grades and how they can be used. When I have floated the idea before, I am told they are too subjective to be a useful measure but I think if we want to encourage a strong work ethic in students, we have to comment on their effort. Would be very interested in your thoughts on this topic.

  10. […] purposes for giving feedback) Part 2 (which looks at how to increase pupils’ understanding) and Part 3 (which considers how to get pupils to expend greater […]

  11. […] Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort […]

  12. […] Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort […]

  13. […] Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort? – David Didau […]

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