Education research

Study: Feedback doesn’t always help students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

A new Vanderbilt University study challenges the assumption that feedback is always a good thing, at least for student learning.

The study, conducted by Emily Fyfe, a doctoral student at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education, suggests that once a lesson is taught, immediately telling students if they are solving problems correctly or incorrectly can lead to lower performance on subsequent problems and post-tests. If a student is working on problems before learning the material, however, immediate feedback is helpful.

“In general, the takeaway is that when you’re first introducing something and your students really don’t know much at all about the topic, giving feedback while they’re solving these problems seems really helpful. But maybe on the third lesson, when they clearly already have some knowledge, then it might be more beneficial to give them their own space to do some problem-solving,” Fyfe said Thursday.

Fyfe studied 108 second- and third-grade students in Nashville. One group received instruction on how to solve the problems; the other did not. All of the students were asked to solve a set of math problems. Some students solved all the problems without input from the tutor, while the tutor told the other students if their answer was right or wrong.

Among students who had received instruction, feedback hurt their results on a post-test. For students who didn’t receive instruction, the opposite was true.

One possible explanation is that the feedback may have distracted the higher-knowledge learners by drawing attention to their self-image and performance, Fyfe said. Feedback may have fixated their attention on whether they were right or wrong, and how getting a wrong answer reflected on their self-image, rather than on how to approach solving the problems.

“Although our natural inclination may be to step in and guide children through the difficult tasks, it may actually undermine their efforts and deprive them of the opportunity to make sense of the math problem on their own,” she said. “Under some conditions, we may need to refrain from ‘rescuing’ children by providing them with feedback, and instead let them struggle, engage and learn on their own.”

In addition to challenging the notion that feedback is always a good thing, Fyfe’s study reinforces that small changes to teaching approaches may significantly improve a child’s learning experience.

“More and more research shows that micro-level changes to instructional input can affect how children learn and understand mathematics,” Fyfe said. “This means that small, purposeful changes can help shape children’s understanding and performance in a positive way.”

Fyfe said past research on the value of teacher feedback to student learning has been mixed. Her study illuminates a possible reason for conflicting results: It depends on prior knowledge.

Fyfe’s findings are published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology. The paper is co-authored by Peabody professor Bethany Rittle-Johnson.

Fyfe plans to conduct a similar study involving middle school students.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.