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The role of feedback

Feedback is always necessary in the learning process to distinguish the right solutions from the wrong ones. Intrinsic feedback occurs automatically during the execution of a task, external feedback may be necessary where success or mistakes are not self-evident. The frequency of feedback required also depends on the existing level of performance.


Implicit feedback → Implicit feedback is the best condition for learning, and arises directly during the execution of a task.

External feedback → External feedback is feedback from outside (e.g. from the teacher), and is helpful where the learner himself can hardly judge the quality of the performance (e.g. spelling).


There is no learning without feedback

If learning is a search for appropriate solutions to a given task, then there must be some way to evaluate the success or failure of that solution. Many tasks themselves provide (implicit) feedback about success, such as grabbing or catching a ball. Such skills can therefore be learned to a large extent in a self-organized manner. With writing or spelling, however, things are different. Here there are external criteria that are not necessarily obvious to the learner. When is a letter still legible and when is it not?

In fact, even experienced writers change the shapes of letters to such an extent that the actual letter would no longer be recognizable in isolation. For example, experienced writers usually italicize the letter "n" as an italicized "u" because it is faster and more efficient to write. As long as the context of the letter "n" clearly indicates an "n", this is not even noticed. However, as soon as the context is no longer clear, people tend to write the "n" more carefully in its original form.

Any experienced writer should have learned how to make letters more efficient without affecting legibility too much. However, many children have trouble evaluating the legibility of letters with modified shapes when writing is speeded up. For example, many children write "e" backwards because it is faster. As a result, a "te", for example, looks like a "k", or the "e" at the end of the word looks like an "R".

If the child does not at this point receive feedback warning him that this is an inappropriate solution, then this incorrect form of execution is adopted because it can be written more efficiently than the original form. However, this is not a mistake on the part of the child, but is due to a lack of feedback.

Therefore, clear feedback is needed to be able to assess the quality of the respective solution approach and thus to be able to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate approaches. Appropriate movement executions can then be stored in motor memory. Lean executions serve as an opportunity to recognize errors and discover the conditions under which errors are prevented. In this way, the movement sequence is optimized more and more until the movement can be executed successfully and automatically.

The frequency of feedback required also depends on the individual's level of performance. At the beginning of the learning process, more frequent but less precise feedback is required. Therefore, a rough assessment of performance is sufficient. Because there is the potential to make even bigger mistakes, feedback should be provided more often. The higher the level of performance increases, the less often the learning system needs external feedback, because it is increasingly able to evaluate the success of the learning itself. Feedback needs to be more accurate because the information stored during learning also becomes more accurate.


The same is true for spelling acquisition: learning to spell also requires adequate feedback. Whether a word is spelled correctly often cannot be deduced directly from what is heard.

The essence of alphabetic writing is that all the words of a language can be represented with a small number of characters. The characters have no pictorial connection with the language. Unlike Chinese, they are not images of actual linguistic content: As arbitrary graphic characters, they represent phonological elements of the language. On the one hand, this explains their special property of allowing the writing of many words with few characters. On the other hand, the letter inventory needs very special rules for each language it is supposed to represent, which correspond to the phonetic peculiarities of that language. The main purpose of the rules is to ensure that texts are easy to read. These are systematic indications in writing that facilitate translation into spoken language, or even make it possible. We know this "codification" under the name of orthography or orthoepy . Learning to read and write means understanding the structures of the writing system - cracking the code, so to speak - and applying that knowledge to the millions and millions of different words in a language's vocabulary.

If children now learn letters without the corresponding system, they develop individual ideas about how signs can be used to express language. Their solutions can be interesting, but they do not always conform to the conventions imposed by the writing system. If children do not receive feedback at this stage, patterns of incorrect solutions may be internalized and spelling problems may emerge. And in this case, the fault is not the child's, but the lack of feedback or the wrong feedback.

What does this mean for my teaching practice?

Implicit feedback is the best condition for learning because the result can be experienced immediately. External feedback often needs to be interpreted and understood first. Where there is no implicit feedback, the teacher must provide feedback support. Therefore, it is important to find the right balance - as little as possible, but as much as necessary.


Reflection question

Bei welchen Aufgaben ist implizites Feedback vorhanden, und bei welchen Aufgaben benötigen Kinder externes Feedback?


1) The frequency of feedback required depends in principle on

A) the modality of the task
B) the level of performance
C) the precision requirements

2) Why is there hardly any implicit feedback in spelling?

A) words too complicated
B) cannot be derived directly from what is heard
C) too many words available


1️⃣ → B) the level of performance
2️⃣ → B) cannot be derived directly from what is heard

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