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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Marino

How can Feedback, Metacognition, Reflection, and Elaborative Interrogation Improve Learning Outcomes?

These are often thought of as separate topics, but these four things are interconnected.

No matter how often students engage in retrieval, they still need feedback to know if something is correct or incorrect. This makes providing feedback an important task for educators. Students may encode information improperly or retrieve faulty information without feedback provided. It’s important to note that providing feedback for incorrect and correct retrieval efforts increases student achievement (Agarwal et al., 2012).

Feedback is essential for learning, but we shouldn’t focus only on correcting mistakes. Students will associate playing music with negative feelings like stress and performance anxiety and think of lessons as assessments of what they do wrong. For music educators, feedback can be divided into three categories: correct/incorrect feedback, elaborative feedback (Agarwal & Bain, 2019), and feedforward (Goldsmith, 2015).

·        Correct/incorrect feedback is simple indications of whether something was done correctly or incorrectly.

·        Elaborative feedback is when we explain to students why something is correct and how we apply that skill or knowledge. For example, when teaching students free stroke, after they play (regardless of whether it’s played properly or improperly) we might explain why we engage all three joints of the finger in a uniform direction for a full swing through the string and provide an example of a passage played free stroke.

·        Feedforward is an idea that comes from the business world. The basic idea is that we can’t change something that’s already happened, but we can control how we approach that same thing in the future. We provide positive suggestions, directions, or instructions to our students for better ways or strategies to approach things that didn’t go as well as intended, instead of saying something was wrong and needs correction. 

Metacognition is someone’s understanding of how they think and how they learn. One of the most important things we do as educators is teach students how to learn (Agarwal & Bain, 2019). We have to teach them how to reflect on what they know and what they don’t yet know and how to utilize strategies for developing deep understanding and higher order cognitive skills.

Reflection is a means of self-assessing and reviewing on your own what has been learned, practiced, or performed and is a useful form of elaboration (Brown et al., 2014).

Here’s an example of reflection/self-assessment for practice (Jones, 2021). First, create a list of what’s important to work on in each practice session. Then work on creating a practice schedule with specific goals listed. Next, get to work using your selected practice strategies. The fourth step is where reflection comes in: reflect on what didn’t go as planned and make notes. Finally, close those gaps in your knowledge you identified by going back to step 3, this time using what you discovered to inform your practice.

1.        Create a list – what is important?

2.        Create a practice schedule – with weekly goals and daily goals listed

3.        Use effective, evidence-informed practice strategies

4.        Identify gaps in your knowledge – what did you have difficulty with? – write and reflect 

5.        Close the gaps – circle back to step 3


What is elaborative interrogation? This is a process of connecting pieces of information or adding new information by asking and answering “how” and “why” questions. Elaborative Interrogation is a way to think about things on a deeper level, enhance memory, and build metacognitive skills (Weinstein et al., 2018). It is important, in order to promote learning, that both the questions and answers are student generated. The examples you’ll find of elaborative interrogation in educational settings, by far, deal with learning facts about topics in subjects like history or science. But music students can adopt and adapt this strategy in very useful ways, and the efficacy of this strategy can be enhanced by combining it with reflection and metacognition.

·        Practice Goals, Reflection, and Elaboration: Using the chart below as a template, begin by writing down your goals. This is the metacognitive component: what you know, what you don’t know, what you think will go well, and what you think might need work. Next, use simple indications of whether those goals were met on that day. Third, reflect on and write about what happened: what went well and what didn’t. Finally, here’s the chance for elaborative interrogation, students cogitate on why they might not have met certain goals and how they can potentially use different strategies for their practice. It’s important to encourage students to elaborate on why certain goals were achieved as well. This helps them develop deeper understanding of the music, strengthens their metacognitive skills, as well as deepens their understanding of their own playing.

·        It doesn’t always need to be written. Elaborative interrogation can be just a simple thought process.



Use this to write out your intended goals for the piece, section, or passage to be practiced, and to write your approximate acceptable level of success (for example: 80% note accuracy, 90% rhythm accuracy, 95% dynamics accuracy?) – be specific

Use + or X to indicate whether you achieved your goal that day

Give self-reflected feedback, be honest…what went well and what fell short?


This is a chance to use elaborative interrogation to explore why things may not have gone as intended and how to approach your practice to improve these points.

These four topics are integral components of the learning process. Musicians and music educators must continue to find ways to utilize these strategies in our teaching and in our own practice to keep music education growing at a commensurate level with education in all other fields of study.


Agarawal, P. K., Bain, P. M., & Chamberlain, R. W. (2012, September). The Value of Applied Research: Retrieval Practice Improves Classroom Learning and Recommendations from a Teacher, a Principal, and a Scientist. Educational Psychology Review, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 437-448.

Agarwal, P. K., & Bain, P. M. (2019). Powerful Learning: Unleash the Science of Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

Goldsmith, M. (2015, February). Try Feedforward Instead of Feedback. Retrieved from Marshall Goldsmith:

Jones, K. (2021). Retrieval Practice: Resource Guide. Suffolk: John Catt Educational Ltd.

Weinstein, Y., Madan, C. R., & Sumeracki, M. A. (2018, Vol. 3, No. 2). Teaching the Science of Learning. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications.





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