In an effort of promoting self-directed learning, providing feedback to students in a timely and constructive fashion is critical to enhancing students’ abilities for self-directedness. When providing feedback, the how and why are essential to creating a safe and productive environment in which the feedback is heard, understood and acted on.

This article explores 5 distinct forms of feedback. The author was careful to order the list in descending order relative to their overall level of efficacy. Take time to read more and use self-evaluation to measure how well your teaching methods work to promote self-directed learning.

VOCABULARY 1801. Reflective questioning. This is the most instrumental type of feedback in promoting self-directed learning and growth. Posing mediating questions has the highest potential for developing self-directedness, as the intent is to alert the students to the data that will serve to provide self-feedback, process that feedback, construct meaning from it, and set goals to self-modify as needed to achieve desired results.

Here are some examples of mediating questions to ask students:

  • How did you know the class was interested in your topic?
  • What did your classmates say that made you realize they were interested in your project?
  • As you think about the purposes of your project, what are some examples you can give that indicate that those purposes were met?
  • What did you learn that you can apply to other projects, and how might you remember to do this?

2. Nonjudgmental data. A teacher may serve as another set of eyes by collecting and providing data for students. In this type of feedback, the teacher has a project-planning conversation with a student and asks her what data she would like to be collected from her presentation. Afterward, the teacher provides the data in a nonjudgmental manner. The purpose of the feedback is to encourage the student to reflect on and interpret the data—draw comparisons and make inferences—and apply this interpretation to future projects or tasks.

Examples of nonjudgmental feedback data might include these statements:

  • You showed the purposes of the project on the PowerPoint presentation and then were silent while students read from the screen.
  • You asked three questions within the first five minutes of your presentation.
  • You maintained eye contact with each student who spoke.

3. Inferences, causality, and interpretations. This type of feedback has a limited value for learning because the criteria for judgment are missing from the teacher’s evaluation. The teacher may make his own interpretations of the lesson or state a causal relationship. Therefore, the students have only the teacher’s opinion to go on.

In this type of feedback, the statements are from the teacher’s point of view. For example:

  • Your explanation helped the other students understand your project. (Inference)
  • The criteria you developed guided their evaluative judgment. (Causality)
  • The concept you were working on became clearer with each example you gave. (Interpretation)

When the teacher makes such statements, it usurps the self-directedness of the students. A higher degree of self-directedness is achieved when the teacher invites the students to make such causal relationships, inferences, and interpretations for themselves.

4. Personal opinions and preferences. This type of feedback is generally better at building rapport than enhancing a student’s capacity for self-directedness because the feedback is based on the teacher’s perspective. The teacher states his own opinion or likes and dislikes.

Examples of this type of feedback include the following statements:

  • I really enjoyed observing your presentation.
  • You really made me laugh when you told that story.
  • I was really engaged when you showed the video clip.
  • I think the kids enjoyed hearing about your project.
  • Your story reminded me of when I was in school.

Statements like these are useful at the beginning of a feedback conversation, but when they slip into evaluation, they can be counterproductive. These types of statements can build dependency on the teacher because they suggest that the students should give presentations in a way that pleases the teacher. The students may conclude that success of the project or presentation depends on the likes and dislikes of the teacher rather than on whether the presentation or project achieved its intended outcomes.

5. Evaluations and judgments. Evaluative feedback makes the smallest contribution to learning and behavior change. When the teacher makes value-laden comments, this sends a signal that she is the final arbitrator of what is good or bad. The teacher may think that making judgments—either positive or negative—is helpful or reinforcing for students, but the opposite is true. Such comments shift the focus from feedback to evaluation.

The following statements are examples of this type of feedback:

  • Your presentation went well.
  • You did a great job.
  • Your PowerPoint presentation was excellent.
  • The way you got the other kids involved is wonderful.

While positive statements may have the effect of making the students feel good, they also signal that if the teacher can make positive judgments, she can also make negative judgments—and the student is waiting for the other shoe to drop. Negative statements are most often remembered, but they have little value in changing behavior. Instead, they cause mistrust, deplete creativity, and create fear. Such comments halt self-directedness and self-evaluation in students.

It is also important to consider the use of praise and rewards in the classroom. Praise uses positive value judgments, such as “good,” “excellent,” and “great” Although praise has always been considered appropriate for shaping some simple learnings and behaviors (Costa & Kallick, 2009, pp. 104–106), questions linger about using praise as psychological candy.

One argument against using praise to shape behavior is that it can be counterproductive. For instance, excessive praise actually can reduce enthusiasm rather than reinforce it. In a classic study, Mary Budd Rowe (1974) found that elementary students who were frequently praised by their teachers showed less task persistence than their peers. Unfortunately, many students lack motivation, and some teachers use rewards to try and instill motivation. But giving rewards is not the entire answer, either.

John Hattie (2012, p. 121) concludes, “Praise includes little information about performance on the task and praise provides little help in answering the three feedback questions: Where am I going? How am I doing? Where should I go next?” And according to Sanford (1995), judgmental feedback reduces the capabilities of self-reflection and self-assessment, reinforces the pattern that others will and should tell us how we are doing, and reduces our capacity to be self-reflective and self-accountable.

Continue reading: Supporting Self-Directed Learners

Read more articles on teaching methods

Vocabulary