Giving feedback on students’ work is a common teaching strategy to improve student performance. However, such feedback can take many different forms, which may be more or less in line with the students’ cultural background, and thus more or less effective.
For instance, Eriksson et alia (2020) hypothesized that “corrective” feedback, i.e., one that points out mistakes, may have positive effects in cultures characterized by high power distance and collectivism, but could backfire in cultures with opposite traits.
According to Geert Hofstede, cultural differences can be analyzed in terms of six dimensions, among which:
The assumption here, is that the cognitive responses elicited by corrective feedback (ensuing emotional, motivational, rational, and meta-cognitice processes) are mediated by the cultural context. More precisely, regardless of its intrinsic quality, there are three requirements for feedback to be an effective teaching strategy; and the students’ cultural background plays a large role in determining whether corrective feedback will meet them or not:
With regard to legitimacy, Eriksson et alia (2020) note that “when applied to the teacher-student relationship, high power distance implies that teachers have great authority. Students respect the teacher, they appreciate that the teacher tells them what to do, they speak up only when invited, and they do not contradict the teacher. Students in societies with less power distance have less respect for teachers and are more likely to challenge teachers’ authority and rely on their own experience instead.”
Turning to efficacy, Eriksson et alia (2020) explain that the individualism - collectivism cultural difference may very well overlap with a dominant fixed - growth mindset approach. Indeed, students from individualist countries are more at risk of taking criticism personally and interpreting it as a sign of personal defect, while students from collectivist countries are more likely to see it as a signal that they are not yet where they should be and consequently have to put in additional effort.
Finally, students raised in cultures characterized by low power distance and high individualism might respond to corrective feedback with demotivation, decreasing the subjective value of the learning objectives as a way to protect their self-esteem. To the contrary, students from high power distance and collectivist cultures are more likely to see achieving learning objectives as inherently desirable.
In a nutshell, only in high power distance and collectivist cultures would we expect that “the discovery of negative features about the self serves to highlight where one needs to make efforts so as to move toward the consensually shared standards” (Heine et al. 2001).
To test this hypothesis, Eriksson et alia (2020) analyzed data from the 2015 TIMSS assessment, which allowed them to compare almost 500,000 Fourth and Eighth Grade students in 49 different countries. The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study is conducted every four years by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement and contains both achievements tests and survey questions on such topics as teachers’ use of various instructional strategies, including corrective feedback.
Overall, the Mistake-Based Feedback (MBF) effect (measuring the correlation between the use of corrective feedback and student achievement) was close to zero. However, there were substantial variations between countries, which researchers were able to plot against their respective scores on the power distance and individualism - collectivism dimensions.
The correlation between the MBF effect, power distance and collectivism wer fairly high for this kind of study, at .44 and .33, respectively. As a matter of fact, both dimensions (along with “religiosity”) explained 37% of the variance in MBF effects between countries.
Corrective feedback thus seemed to be a much more effective teaching strategy in countries such as Malaysia or the UAE than in European and North-American countries, where it appeared to be counter-productive.
As the authors conclude, “these results highlight the importance of cultural values in educational practice.”
Reference: Eriksson, Lindvall, Helenius and Ryve, “Cultural Variation in the Effectiveness of Feedback on Students’ Mistakes”, Frontiers in Psychology, January 2020.