Feedback helps kindergartners monitor their performance

However, not all types of feedback benefit all children
Soe Lin, flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0
Soe Lin, flickr.com, CC-BY 2.0

The kindergarten years are a crucial period of rapid development in the cognitive, but also in the metacognitive domain. During this period there is a striking increase in children’s ability to observe and reflect on their information processing and task performance. In other words, children are learning to monitor their own learning progress and outcomes.

Accurate self-monitoring is positively related to children’s self-regulation and learning. That is, children need to be able to monitor their progress in order to successfully prepare for the tasks they will encounter in elementary school. However, although children’s emerging self-monitoring skills are noticeable in kindergarten, these skills still need training. Often children are overconfident, they fail to recognize most of their errors, and they think they should be rewarded when they have worked on a task, regardless of their performance.

Inaccurate self-monitoring hinders learning in both the short and the long term. When children are unable to recognize errors, they will not have the opportunity to learn from and correct them.

To help children learn to self-monitor, kindergarten teachers need to provide instructional support and feedback. Research with elementary school children has shown that feedback on performance not only improves learning outcomes, but it also helps children monitor their learning.

Effects of different types of feedback on self-monitoring

Together with Claudia Roebers, I designed an experimental study [under review] to learn more about whether and how feedback can support kindergartners in monitoring their performance.

For this study, we combined two approaches: an educational approach to determine whether and how feedback can be beneficial, and a developmental approach aimed at ascertaining how individual differences in cognitive processing capacity, measured by working memory, influence feedback processing. Participants were 105 children in the second year of kindergarten (mean age 5.8 years). They were tested in several kindergartens in Switzerland.

“Accurate self-monitoring is positively related to children’s self-regulation and learning.”

The children completed six reasoning tasks, for which they had to match 12 sets of corresponding pictures. After matching each pair, they were asked to indicate whether they thought their solution was correct or incorrect. After identifying all 12 pairs, they were asked to indicate how many reward points they deserved.

The children received feedback after they had assessed the accuracy of each of their matches. To investigate the effects of feedback, children were assigned to different feedback groups, one of which received feedback on performance, while another received feedback on performance as well as on self-monitoring accuracy, and the third received no feedback at all.

The children who received feedback were better able to recognize their errors than the no-feedback group. Interestingly, the feedback on self-monitoring accuracy proved to be even more effective than feedback that only addressed performance.

“Simpler feedback that only addresses performance may be more helpful than complex feedback on both performance and monitoring.”

When the children were asked to specify the rewards they deserved, however, the pattern of results looked somewhat different. Feedback also improved the accuracy of these judgments, but children who received feedback only on performance suggested more appropriate self-rewards than children who received feedback on their performance and self-monitoring accuracy.

Measures of children’s working memory provided more insight into why self-monitoring feedback was particularly beneficial for error recognition, but not for identifying the appropriate reward. For error recognition, working memory didn’t matter as much. Apparently, the children did not find it very difficult to process feedback provided immediately after they had matched a pair, and all of them benefited from such feedback.

However, children whose working memory capacity was more limited found it especially challenging to identify the appropriate reward after they received feedback. This indicates that children with lower cognitive processing resources, in particular, had difficulty combining their memories about task responses and feedback when monitoring their overall task performance. In this case, simpler feedback that only addresses performance may be more helpful than complex feedback on both performance and monitoring.

Implications for kindergarten teachers

Our findings suggest that even children as young as kindergartners can benefit from feedback. Feedback improves the accuracy of their self-monitoring, as reflected in improvements in their ability to detect errors and correctly assess the rewards they deserve. These insights may help kindergarten teachers support children in monitoring their own learning.

“These insights may help kindergarten teachers support children in monitoring their own learning.”

Feedback on the accuracy of their solutions helps children recognize errors. This, in turn, is a prerequisite for adaptive regulation of learning (e.g., correcting mistakes or seeking help to clarify tasks). When feedback it is given immediately after the individual steps of a task have been completed, young children are better able to process relatively complex feedback concerning the accuracy of their self-monitoring judgments.

But when the goal is to help children monitor their overall performance on a larger task, simple performance feedback may be more useful than feedback on their self-monitoring, owing to the limited processing capacity of very young children.

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