Feedback Structures Coach Students to Improve Math Achievement

Posted on December 12, 2013


It seems obvious that all of us need feedback if we really want to reach a goal, improve our skill set, or raise our performance. Feedback should be considered a coach that helps us reduce the discrepancy between our current and desired outcomes (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

What is feedback and how can it help?

According to Hattie and Timperley (2007), feedback is information provided by a teacher, peer, parent, or experience about one’s performance or understanding. Feedback is most valuable when it is connected to a discrete task or activity for the purpose of closing the gap between what is currently understood and what needs to be understood (Sadler, 1989). In closing the understanding gap, feedback confirms to students that they are correct or incorrect, cues students to restructure their approach to a task, and informs students to self-direction that results in the successful implementation of a strategy, developing conceptual understanding of a concept, and/or task completion (Winne & Butler, 1994). Feedback can be accepted, modified, or rejected (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). If utilized it can enhance one’s ability to relate the new information to what we already know, promote perseverance, and resolve to achieve the desired goal.

In education, we depend on feedback as a way to communicate data between teacher and student, between teacher and administrator, between teacher and teacher, and between student and student. The average effect size of feedback in classrooms is 0.79; in other words, it’s among the top five influences on achievement (Hattie, 1999). “The most effective forms of feedback provide cues or reinforcement to learners; are in the form of video-, audio-, or computer-assisted instructional feedback; and/or relate to goals” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p. 84). For students who struggle with a task, it is critical that feedback is a daily occurrence.

Feedback Structures that Coach Students to Improve

While watching the TED Talk: “Salman Khan: Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education”

(, I was reminded of the influence that feedback has on improving performance. The function of Khan Academy is to reinvent the influence of feedback in the learning process so that mastery is expected. Salman Khan (Khan 2011, TED Talk Transcript) states: “So our model is learn math the way you’d learn anything, like the way you would learn a bicycle. Stay on that bicycle. Fall off that bicycle. Do it as long as necessary until you have mastery… We encourage you to experiment. We encourage you to failure. But we do expect mastery.”

Khan presented four distinct feedback structures that coach a student to mastery.

1)  Feedback to the student on his/her performance in the form of immediate cues, reinforcement, and corrective feedback so the student must master a math concept. Because learning is self-paced, students who need more practice and feedback receive it in a timely manner. Students experience many practice opportunities until they get the concept.

2)  Feedback to the teacher about student performance in the form of a data-centric live dashboard, so that a teacher can examine daily every student’s progress/proficiency level, where the student is stuck, how long it took for the student to master a specific concept, and what they focused on. This results in targeted help during classroom instruction.

3)  Feedback from teacher to student on his/her performance in the form of teachers being able to spend 50 – 75% more class time providing monitored guided and independent practice because students watch the videos lectures on key math concepts as homework.

4)  Feedback from student to student in the form of proficient students being peer tutors to those who are struggling.

In a typical school classroom, whether one scores 90% or below 70%, the class moves on to the next core standard. There is no attention to what the student doesn’t understand. In mathematics, if a student hasn’t mastered how to plot an ordered pair on a coordinate plane, how can the student explain how to find slope of a line or calculate slope with mastery? Salman Khan (Khan 2011, TED Talk Transcript) expressed it this way: “Imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist.” So I put a big “C” stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.” Bottom line, our students have gaps in their conceptual understanding (the foundation) and procedural knowledge.


Is the use of Khan Academy to improve conceptual understanding, procedural knowledge, and procedural flexibility in the math core having impact on individual students’ math performance and district-wide math performance? Los Altos School District says yes! Learn more at:

The absence of feedback to students during skill acquisition promotes the traditional student role of spectator. Learning is not a spectator sport. A steady stream of feedback is like an effective coach — who says, “You’re invaluable to the learning experience” and “My role is to help you acquire decision competence — control over making better decisions based on improved performance.”

Author: Suraj Syal, Coordinator, Utah Personnel Development Center