Research School Network: Cognitive Science Principles for Effective Feedback: Combining the Evidence By Susie Fraser: Director of Manchester Communication Research School

Cognitive Science Principles for Effective Feedback: Combining the Evidence

By Susie Fraser: Director of Manchester Communication Research School

by Manchester Communication Research School
on the

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to spend the day with some brilliant secondary trainee teachers who are in their first term of initial teacher training. It was wonderful, yet also astounding to see that even at such an early stage in their training, they already had a good understanding of many of the cognitive science principles as outlined in the EEF Cognitive Science Approaches in the Classroom report. This means that as they become teachers in their own classrooms, with their own pupils, they will be able to make evidence informed decisions and choices about what will work best and when, that will not only have the potential to maximise the learning of their pupils, but could equally have a positive impact on their own workload and well-being.

As they already had this foundation of knowledge, we were able to spend the day exploring how the evidence for effective teacher feedback from the EEF Guidance Report on Effective Teacher Feedback recommendations and how we can combine these with some of the cognitive science principles. These are some of the main areas we covered:

1. Feedback can act as an effective tool for retrieval

The evidence around retrieval practice tells us that low stakes testing is an effective method of retrieving prior learning. Testing often comes in the form of well-designed questions of previously learned material. Testing enhances the information that has been encoded and stored more effectively than if this information was simply restudied. The evidence also tells us that feedback is most effective when it moves learning forward. So how can we combine these two ideas? If feedback is given in response to identified gaps in learning, whether it is verbal or written and includes a question that relies on pupils encoding information that has previously been learnt, then this could potentially be a strategy to test pupils whilst filling in gaps and moving learning forward.

2. Cognitive Load Theory can inform how feedback can effectively move learning forward

There are a number of misconceptions around cognitive load theory. One of these is that teachers should strive to remove all cognitive load. Whilst it is important to remove any extraneous load that could act as a distraction from the information that needs attending to, cognitive load theory also tells us that it is beneficial to promote the germane cognitive load. Germane load refers to the cognitive effort that is need to process information into new schemas. We want pupils to think hard and to link new learning to prior connected knowledge in the process of creating schemas, so when done well, increasing the germane load is not detrimental to the learning process. So how does this link to feedback? The evidence tells us that pupils need to act on feedback in order to move learning forward. Therefore, if the feedback given to pupils includes a requirement that they have to think hard about how to connect new learning to prior learning or adapt their new learning to a related concept, this not only strengthens their metacognitive strategies, it allows them to construct new schemas.

Feedback can support Spacing

The guidance on effective feedback tells us that teachers should think carefully about the timing of feedback. An understanding of the cognitive science principle of spacing may help to inform a teacher’s decision about whether feedback should be immediate or delayed. By delaying feedback and carefully considering the content of the feedback given, this can act as a mechanism for spacing content. We know that pupils can find it more difficult to process information during a spaced practice, so the guidance around laying the foundations for feedback so that students are motivated and ready to receive the feedback is an important consideration here and can enhance the pupil’s engagement with the spaced practice.

As we become more critical consumers of evidence and as new generations of teachers enter the profession with increasing levels of evidence literacy, it is exciting to consider how we connect and combine our knowledge of the different areas of evidence, to further maximise the potential learning capacity of pupils.

More from the Manchester Communication Research School

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more