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What's new in pedagogy research? (Professional Resources).

Everyone knows that positive comments in the lesson are better than negative or critical responses, right? Well, maybe not! Robert Duke and Jacqueline Henninger recently published a study titled "Teachers' Verbal Corrections and Observers' Perceptions of Teaching and Learning." (1) This investigation was based on two of the videotaped lessons collected in a previous experiment by these researchers. (2) In the first project, one of the lessons was labeled a directive lesson, and in this private recorder lesson, the teacher made corrections by stating specific directions for improving the next attempt. (An example of this might be for the teacher to suggest playing a section of the music more softly next time.) Negative feedback comments were avoided during the lesson. The second lesson, given by the same teacher to a different student, was labeled the negative feedback lesson, and in this tape, the teacher corrected errors by directly stating what was incorrect and asking the student to try correcting the error again. (For example, the teacher might simply state, "This section was too loud. Try it again.") (3) The teacher maintained the same facial expressions and emotional tone throughout both lessons. The numbers of positive, negative and directive comments were tabulated, along with the number of performance trials and the time it took for the student to reach the performance criterion.

In this second study, two of these tapes were shown to fifty-one undergraduates enrolled in music teacher preparation programs at two universities. These university students viewed the two tapes in a single class meeting and then responded to ten statements about the student and the teaching, using a four-point scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree.

The ten statements were:

* The student seemed to enjoy learning to play the recorder.

* The student seemed to find it difficult to play the recorder.

* I believe that this student would choose to continue learning to play the recorder.

* This lesson seemed like a negative experience for the student.

* The student seemed bored learning to play the recorder.

* The student seemed confident about playing the song learned.

* The teacher was helpful.

* The student seemed frustrated during the lesson.

* The teacher was encouraging and positive.

* This lesson exemplified effective teaching. (4)

The results were somewhat surprising. The university music education majors did not rate the two lessons as being significantly different, and even gave a higher rating to the negative feedback lesson for the statement, "The teacher was encouraging and positive." The key to the lesson's success appeared to be the characteristics of an effective teacher, which differed from a non-expert teacher in terms of rate, content and specificity: Episodes of teacher and student activity were generally brief, generating a quickly paced lesson; experts gave greater negative feedback, but it was directed solely toward the performance and not social behavior; and experts gave more specific positive feedback than non-expert teachers. (5) (Because of the lesson's quick pace, students were given numerous opportunities to try and try again and did finally reach the goal the teacher had set, thus ending with the positive reinforcement of the large goal successfully accomplished.)

The authors write:
 Our results ... call into question prescriptions about elective teaching
 that advise teachers against making straightj3rward comments about
 incorrect aspects of students' performance skills.... Furthermore, there
 seems to be little evidence in the published literature that negative
 feedback, in the context of successful lessons, adversely affects students'
 attitudes or levels of achievement, nor does negative feedback affect
 evaluations of teaching by third-party observers. (6)

The researchers conclude this and other studies suggest that high rates of negative feedback are not what cause poor teaching; there are deeper problems of non-expert teaching that may be the culprit.


As I think back over many master classes where I have observed expert teachers flatly stating, "No, that's still too uneven. Listen carefully to what you are playing and try again," and I compare the final success of that experience to some of the results of student teaching where every comment is positive and the effects are negligible, it makes me pause for thought. If negative, direct comments often are effective for the expert teacher, and positive, (usually nonspecific comments) are ineffective for the novice or non-expert teacher--how do we go about training the beginning or non-effective teacher in the use of positive and negative reinforcement? Perhaps we should focus our greatest efforts on teaching our teachers how to be effective in their use of rate (quick pacing with more time for trying again and again), content (specific negative feedback on performance skills, not social behavior) and specificity (exactly what is good, and exactly what needs work). Maybe then, their use of reinforcement techniques will have a greater chance of being effective and leading to success.


(1.) R. Duke and J. Henninger, "Teachers' Verbal Corrections and Observers' Perceptions of Teaching and Learning," Journal of Research in Music Education. 50 (2002): 75-87.

(2.) R. Duke and J. Henninger, "Effects of Verbal Corrections on Student Attitude and Performance," Journal of Research in Music Education. 46 (1998): 265-280.

(3.) Duke, "Teachers' Verbal Corrections and Observers' Perceptions of Teaching and Learning," 79.

(4.) Ibid., 80-81.

(5.) Ibid., 76.

(6.) Ibid., 82-83.

--Rebecca Grooms Johnson, NCTM, Ph.D. National Pedagogy Chair Director of Keyboard Pedagogy Capital University Columbus, Ohio.
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Article Details
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Author:Johnson, Rebecca Grooms
Publication:American Music Teacher
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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