Having explored two factors that affect motivation in adult learners – the value of success and the expectancy of success – Annie McDonald, co-author of the English Result series, now considers the importance of feedback for learners’ development.
If learners ‘have a go’ at a communicative task, let’s say, explaining how to cook something, we can provide them with informative feedback. We could, for example, comment on the content of their explanation (whether there was sufficient information for a person wanting to cook the dish to be able to do so); coherence (whether the explanation contained sequencing words like first, then, etc.); and, say, vocabulary (whether ‘cooking verbs’ were used appropriately).
The criteria we select for feedback should be traceable to lesson activities and could be given to learners at the beginning of a task. Feedback needs to be informative and positively oriented, focusing on what an individual ‘can do’ in order to protect an individual’s self-esteem.
In the first instance, teacher feedback on the extent to which a learner has achieved an objective is of crucial significance if success-expectancy is to be maintained and effective learning is to continue.
Williams and Burden (1997) point out, however, that we need to exercise caution and be aware of the dangers of an over-reliance on hollow praise. Instead, we need to provide feedback which enables learners to ‘identify specific aspects of their performance that are acceptable and capable of improvement by some specified means, it should be both helpful and motivating to them to move into the zone of next development’. Informative feedback can drive effective learning.
Informative feedback also helps a learner develop a mastery rather than performance orientation towards learning (Ames, 1992).
Learners with a performance-oriented approach are more concerned with grades or marks. On the other hand, mastery orientation concerns a focus on learning, an intrinsic interest in learning activities and a positive attitude towards learning.
Armed with informative feedback, a learner is empowered to develop an innate interest in learning and become aware of an intrinsic value to developing competences (Deci, 1985).
The giving of informative feedback might also act as a vehicle to engage learners who might not initially see any value in language learning for its own sake, say for a university student studying language as a compulsory component of another course.
To further engage an individual with the learning process we can encourage them to reflect on their performance and self-assess; also from a ‘can do’ perspective. As learners become accustomed to reflecting on their performance they will be more able to make the link between their own learning experiences and the progress they are making.
Armed with the knowledge of the efforts they have made, informative feedback from a teacher, their own assessment of how they have performed a task, and the relevance of the task in relation to their own overall learning goals, learners will be better placed to start to set their own learning goals and hence generate motivation and drive effective learning further.