Students Need Timely Feedback

The recent emphasis on school choice and school funding has kept us from considering enough possibilities when brainstorming about school reform. (For example, although we rarely think about the standard K-5/6-8 school divisions, they may not be a good way to divide students.) One thing worth examining is the excessive amount of time students must wait between completing an assignment and receiving feedback on the assignment.

When a student messes up a math problem it’s a lot more helpful if somebody immediately tells him what he did wrong rather than waiting 20 minutes or 20 days. With timely feedback he still remembers what he was thinking and therefore he’ll have an easier time pinpointing mistakes. With untimely feedback he might be left attempting to correct mistakes involving diameter when the class is already on to learning about area.

What might happen if all teachers had to return assignments within three days? Although there hasn’t been much research on how feedback timing affects motivation and interest in schools, a new study reveals that in the workplace timely feedback results in greater resource allocation.

The study described here tested a model of how characteristics of the feedback environment influence the allocation of resources (time and effort) among competing tasks. Results demonstrated that performers invest more resources on tasks for which higher quality (more timely and more specific) feedback is available…Results also demonstrated that performers do better on tasks for which higher quality feedback is available.

The goal of the experiment  was to learn about resource allocation for multi-tasking in an office environment, but the results can be applied to students in the sense that their daily lives involve multi-tasking between school activities (e.g. homework) and leisure (e.g. playing video games.) Perhaps if schools gave more timely feedback students would allocate some resources away from video games and towards their homework.
Northcraft GB, Schmidt AM, & Ashford SJ (2011). Feedback and the rationing of time and effort among competing tasks. The Journal of applied psychology, 96 (5), 1076-86 PMID: 21463017


2 Responses to Students Need Timely Feedback

  1. radams says:

    Interesting. But there will be a trade-off: the faster the feedback needs to be, the less time the teacher can spend on marking. Is it better to have low-quality feedback soon, or high-quality feedback later?

  2. erichorow says:

    That’s the crucial question. My impression is that no effort has been made to find the learning-maximizing equilibrium, and since we probably haven’t arrived there by accident we should be figuring out how to get there.

    And I agree that low quality feedback might be an issue with English or other humanities subjects, but it shouldn’t be a huge problem in math and science, particularly in elementary school. I don’t think faster turnaround times will affect a teacher’s ability to grade a test on fractions.

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