by Harb Gill

How feedback can unlock your son’s learning potential

Learning guru Professor John Hattie talks feedback with Harb Gill.

Feedback can double the speed of learning, we are told. Yes, says learning guru Professor John Hattie, but what students need is not just any feedback but rather clear feedback about ‘where to next’.

“That turns out to be the most powerful form of feedback,” says Professor Hattie, who is the author of Visible Learning, the world’s largest evidence-based study into the factors that improve student learning. Hattie is also director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, deputy dean of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and chair of the board of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.

“If you look at your son’s reports, you’ll hardly ever see ‘where to next’ feedback. You’ll see a lot of feedback about how he’s going and what he didn’t do right.”

Hattie says the shift he is striving for is for teachers to understand how students receive feedback, and to ask students if they understood what was said.

Hattie’s message for teachers: “Shut up and listen.”

You have an incredible role in your kids’ learning. You are a change agent, mum and dad. Be a change agent.

Professor John Hattie

“We did a study in England a couple of years ago, in a large number of classes. What percentage of time in a lesson does a teacher talk? 89%. If you’re talking all that time, clearly you’re not listening.”

Hattie’s message for parents: “You have an incredible role in your kids’ learning. You are a change agent, mum and dad. Be a change agent.”

Professor Hattie’s effective feedback tips for parents:

1. Teach kids to be listeners
Ask your kid ‘what do you understand by what I said?’ Teach them to be listeners. It’s the core of empathy. It’s the core of self-respect. It’s the core of respect for others. It’s the core of learning.

Right through their school career, my kids got the same question every night. ‘What feedback did your teacher give you today?’ I wanted them to learn to listen to feedback.

However, remember this has to be a conversation, not an interrogation.

2. Reframe failure and encourage risk-taking
If your kids see failure as something bad and evil and a mistake, they are not going to be good learners. If they see failure as an opportunity to learn, they are going to be powerful learners.

You can demonstrate to your kids that there are things you don’t know either and that learning is premised on the simple notion that you don’t know.

The most phenomenal thing about gifted kids is that only 2% go on to become gifted adults. It’s because they never learn to fail; their parents won’t let them. Some of these kids are not adventurers, they are not risk-takers, and all learning is based on risk-taking.

3. Help kids to collaborate
Help kids collaborate in problem-solving. Do things with them. And get them to interpret what they are doing.

4. Teach them to be flexible
Most kids have one way of doing things. If that doesn’t work, they don’t know what to do. Show them how to find a different way of solving a problem by getting them to think aloud. ‘How are you solving this problem? This is how I did it. Isn’t it interesting you solved the problem in a different way?’ You can do that at any age.

If you look at your son’s reports, you’ll hardly ever see ‘where to next’ feedback.

Professor John Hattie

5. Harness the power of sport
Sport is great. It’s fundamentally based on mistakes. If no one made mistakes, the score would be ridiculous. It’s about ‘what did you do when you didn’t know what to do’, thinking about strategies, and coaches showing them how they can do it differently.

Sport is great because you expect not to be perfect. That’s why we watch Roger Federer play. If he was perfect we wouldn’t watch him.

6. Embrace outdoor education
I had a student who did a meta-analysis on self-concept and what stood out was outward-bound adventure programs. Going down a river on a raft or on a canoe or abseiling down a cliff… in those situations you have to ask for help, you need to collaborate. That social skill of collaboration is probably one of the most critical things in our society. What our world wants is team players – people who can collaborate and interpret. They want critical thinking.

The important thing is to continue collaboration into the classroom.

Professor Hattie is working on his 11th book, Visible Learning for Parents, as well as a book on feedback.

Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Harb Gill is a journalist, university teacher and mother of a 14-year-old boy. She has spent a lifetime of inquiry into how to live consciously. Find her mindfulness column at This article is about


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