Feedback vs. Advice – That Blurry Line

This topic reminds me why I HAVE TO blog.

I think about feedback every time I check a test or a homework task. Turns out I’d better be thinking about it – according to the article I just read there are eight things that can happen when we give a student feedback and six of them are bad! (Feedback, Part of a System, by Dylan William). With that “encouraging” statement I embarked on a thorough journey through the Educational  Leadership Magazine (published  by ASCD) devoted to the topic of feedback.

Photo by Roni Epstein

Since there is no non-virtual framework available for me to discuss the issues that I find confusing, here I am!

Grant Wiggins warns against giving advice instead of feedback. In fact, he makes a strong case why giving advice instead of feedback is inneffective. Advice includes value judgements (Seven Keys to Effective Feedback). I don’t “get” it.  I’m having trouble differentiating between the two.

I’ve always been told to phrase comments so that they would be helpful and the students would understand what they need to do to improve the quality of their work. Now that seems to be labeled as advice.Wiggins says this is not worth much if not preceeded by descriptive feedback. First the student needs information regarding the effects of the action in relation to the goal. From what I understand, instead of saying ” next time remember to include a name of a place if the question word was where“,  I should say ” points were lost because the question word “where” was ignored. Is that what he means? I’m not sure. It doesn’t sound more helpful to me.

Photo by Roni Epstein

John Hattie (Know Thy Impact) says that students value feedback that helps them know where they are supposed to go.  All the articles in the magazine stress that feedback won’t be effective without clarifying goals. I understand that. However, the main goal of my students at the high-school and the hearing adults I teach comes through loud and clear from every possible angle: my job as a teacher is to help the students get the highest possible grades on their final exams (reading comprehension). Isn’t giving advice on how to avoid those errors the next time the kind of information the students expect to receive?

By the way, there is also an article dealing with the value of differentiating between errors and mistakes, by Fisher and Fry (Making TIME for Feedback)    . While I clearly understand the distinction, the way this distinction can be applied to comments on  reading comprehension tasks is beyond me. But that I’ll leave for another time.

Any advice on how not to give advice?

5 thoughts on “Feedback vs. Advice – That Blurry Line”

  1. Kate!
    What an interesting video! It just stresses the importance of thinking of that fine line. The students in my adult classes are there beause they could not successfully answer reading comprehension questions on an academic text. The phrasing of “comrehension strategies I’m presenting for you to think about and experiment with” might be more useful than” here’s what I think you should do to improve your performance. Ah, the power of words!
    Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Posted on behalf of Dorit Renov:

    the writer has probably borrowed a distinction made in relationship discourse between pointing out a fact (you left grease stains on the table) and being judgmental (you should pay attention to what you’re doing), feedback being a reiteration of what one has done. e.g. “you just threw the cat off the balcony” as opposed to “what have you done idiot”

    this distinction has little bearing on the situation you’ve described regarding where, etc.
    whether you say it one way or the other, you’re talking about facts. should we leave it to the students to draw their own conclusions?
    that’s a bit far-fetched in a classroom situation.

    i would stick to your gut feeling
    and leave the advice/feedback to situations such as
    you seem to be feeling down today
    as opposed to
    cheer up life is short and there are people who are REALLY suffering
    people who go around tooting the latter deserve to be told the same when THEY’RE suffering.

  3. Dorit!
    Now this is advice I can relate to! This discussion though is making me more aware of the fine tuning, not being judgemental.

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