Since making mistakes is the best way to learn, isn’t it logical that giving corrective feedback is important for learning? Yet, some trainers are reluctant to point out when people are wrong or at least not wholly correct. They want the classroom to be a safe place and fear that giving out corrective feedback might cause certain people to stop contributing.
The classroom should, indeed, be a safe place. Learners should feel safe enough to make mistakes, fail, and, as a result, learn. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the classroom will always be safe from embarrassment, from the consequences of mistakes, or from receiving corrective feedback.
Of course, trainers should avoid giving feedback that shames or is embarrassing. That’s not the aim of corrective feedback, which should go without saying. The aim of corrective feedback is to help students learn the right information. It’s absolutely critical to correct wrong impressions, interpretations, and memories in order to reinforce the correct information and resolve the confusion that participants may not realize they have.
In a classroom situation in front of others (where embarrassment is more likely), here are several effective phrases to use to begin corrective feedback:
- “If there is anything I would suggest it would be”
- “The only thing that would make it even better is”
- “Well, not quite. Consider.”
- “What does everyone else think?” (to encourage peers to respond, which is often less threatening than the response from the trainer)
Corrective feedback supports retrieval practice, which supports long-term remembering. The trainer also uncovers participant confusion about the finer points of content and has the opportunity to clarify the differences. Participant mistakes are critical to uncovering these misconceptions and then correcting them during training.
One final point about feedback: don’t worry that pointing out errors will reinforce wrong behavior. When presented with a multiple-choice question where three answers are wrong and one is right, the wrong answers aren’t reinforced more than the right answersas long as learners receive corrective feedback when they choose the wrong answer. The learner’s effort of reconciling what they thought was correct with what is actually correct helps them remember the correct information more strongly, aiding long-term memory.
In summary, don’t be afraid to give corrective feedback when learners make mistakes. Do so with care and kindness, but be clear about what is correct. I’m constantly telling myself and others that we learn best from our mistakes. Thank the person who makes the mistake in front of others for the opportunity to clarify information for everyone else. Capitalize on the ability of mistakes to strengthen learning with corrective feedback.
Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on ICMI.com.