Providing Attributional Feedback
There are a number of factors that can influence students’ attributions, but teacher feedback is crucial. The implications for success and failure conditions are somewhat different and further complicated by the possibility that students may not interpret the same objective event in the same way. For example, for some students, getting a B on a paper may be a success, given their past lower grades. In contrast, for other students, including many high achievers and college students, getting a B is a failure situation. Given the importance of students’ perceptions of events in attribution theory, it is suggested that teachers attempt to give accurate feedback to the students, rather than noncredible feedback designed to encourage them and maintain their self-esteem (Blumenfeld et al., 1982). In this sense, teachers will help students to make accurate attributions for their own behavior that, in the long run, will be more adaptive.
In failure situations, teachers should provide accurate feedback to students about the reasons for their failure. One suggestion is to attribute all failures to low effort and encourage students to make this low effort attribution. This often is good advice; it communicates to students that they can do better because effort is an unstable, internal, and controllable cause that students can change. However, there are occasions when students actually do try hard and still do poorly because they lack the skills or knowledge for the task. In these situations, students know they worked hard, and to be told by the teacher to keep trying harder can be frustrating and lead to a discounting of the teacher’s feedback. It would be more accurate to point out to students the skills or knowledge that they lack, communicate that skills and knowledge can be learned, and then teach these skills and knowledge.
For example, Mr. Herther is teaching reading to a second-grade class. Fernando is having some difficulty learning to recognize words and pronounce them correctly. Mr. Herther asks Fernando to come to his desk and read to him. As Fernando reads, he keeps making mistakes and says, “I can’t do this, it is too hard. I wish it was in Spanish. It would be easier for me, and then my parents could teach me.”
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