The right conditions for feedback

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"Feedback ...... is the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge and without it no amount of practice will get you there".

One of the most interesting books I have read on high performance is Matthew Syed's Bounce.

Syed was England's Table Tennis Champion for many years and competed at the Barcelona and Sydney Olympics. He now works as a prominent sports journalist in the UK.

Bounce explores what really lies behind world-beating achievement in sport and other walks of life. In doing so, Syed explores the success of a wide range of high achievers including Mozart, Roger Federer, Picasso and David Beckham.

The general view that we have of high achievers is that they are blessed with extraordinary natural ability. However Syed's central thesis is that natural ability has very little to do with high achievement and more to do with implementing the right conditions for performance.

One of these conditions is purposeful practice and meaningful feedback.

In exploring his own development as a table tennis champion, Syed points out how he was instructed by his coach to change his highly variable forehand stroke. Sometimes his forehand was played with a high arc, sometimes with a bit of sidespin. Syed reasoned that the variation in his forehand made him an inventive player.

However Syed's coach insisted that the forehand should be identical every time it is played. For two months, Syed's was instructed to repeat an identical forehand in training so that it is "played with a long sweeping arc, starting from my (Syed's) right ear and finishing a few inches above my ankle and taken at precisely the same height of the net with exactly with 80 degrees of knee bend" (p. 94). This was practised until it was encoded into Syed's DNA.

Syed questioned the value of spending so many gruelling hours practising the same stroke without any variations. But with the wisdom of hindsight, he realised his coach was creating the conditions for purposeful practice and meaningful feedback.

With a variable forehand it is difficult to identify what was wrong when Syed made an error was made. However by reproducing an identical stroke, it is far easier to identify technical errors so that corrective refinement and readjustment could be made.

In other words, Syed was empowered with a tool for automatic feedback and a powerful mechanism for learning. In his own words, "feedback ...... is the rocket fuel that propels the acquisition of knowledge and without it no amount of practice will get you there".

When implementing meaningful assessment for our students we also strive to provide the right conditions for purposeful practice and meaningful feedback. If we can provide the right conditions, our students will have tools to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to make refinements. More importantly, purposeful practice and meaningful feedback will help build the capabilities of our students to make effective decisions about their learning.

Jacaranda is committed to providing the right conditions for learning. Purposeful practice and meaningful feedback is deliberately built into all of Jacaranda's digital-first products including assessON, Knowledge Quest, myWorld Atlas, myWorld History Atlas and studyON.

This feedback loop provides the right conditions for:

• Assessment of learning (to compare what has been learned to what has been taught).
• Assessment for learning (to check what is known and what needs to be known to complete a learning task).
• Assessment as learning (enabling students to self-assess and find out more about themselves as learners).

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Whether your students are striving to hit the perfect forehand or solve a difficult equation, purposeful practice and meaningful feedback is vital in all learning contexts. Like Syed's coach, teachers need to create the right conditions for this to occur.

Your students will thank you for implementing and optimising the right conditions for their learning.

 

by John Raiti.