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Well done! and other pointless phrases.

19th May 2016

Well Done 2

We all say it – ‘Well done!’ (or ‘Good job!’ if you’re more North American!), but we might as well save our breath – it is meaningless to the majority of our students, and can actually harm learning!

 

I’m quoting John Hattie’s research (see blog ‘Visible Learning”), which states that there are 3 ways of giving effective feedback, and ‘well done’ does not feature. Feedback needs to help students to ‘close the gap between where they are and where they need to be’ (p70)[1], and merely praising what they have done doesn’t help them – we need to be more specific about what they have done well in order to help them progress.

 

So, how can we avoid empty praise and use quality feedback to support students to make progress?

  • ‘Novice’ learners – those who are younger or who are new to a subject area, or merely unused to studying – need corrective feedback which addresses where they went wrong and what they need to do differently next time.
  • ‘Proficient’ learners – those who are confident in their learning or for whom this is a familiar area of learning – require process feedback which addresses how they tackled what they have done and how successful their methods were.
  • ‘Highly competent’ learners – those who are higher-functioning generally or who are very familiar with the area being studied – need feedback that encourages them to extend and apply knowledge further.

In my experience, it is the ‘highly competent’ learners who most often get the ‘well dones’, which may undermine their confidence as they fail to appreciate what they have achieved and may even cripple further study with self-doubt. ‘Well done’ will sound hollow to them. We need to be specific about what they did well, why we think it was quality work and, crucially, how they can build on it to develop further.

 

As with all learners, our students at Fresh Start are complex.  Due to disrupted learning, they will often be highly competent in some areas and novice in others – many times hidden behind a mask of ‘poor behaviour’.  All this makes the task of our Education Specialists even more complex!  But this is the joy of our work: finding those areas where our students already shine and reinforcing and encouraging them to go further; finding those areas where they struggle and showing them the small steps they can take to improve; watching our students learn to love learning again – what could be better?  So, whether they are highly competent, novice or somewhere in between, we always ensure that the ‘steps to success’ are clearly revealed to our students, making them manageable and achievable… and, crucially, we never leave our students with the empty feedback ‘well done’!

[1] Hattie, J, and Yates, GCR, 2013 Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn Oxford: Routledge