The Role of Feedback in the Story of Learning: A Guide For Teachers (Part 2)

This is part two of a three-blog series taking a close look at feedback: exploring why it matters, what it looks like, and when it can go wrong. We offer some guiding principles and practical strategies to help teachers optimise their time and offer feedback that leads to better learning. If you missed it, part one can be found here.

An Oft-Misinterpreted Character

鈥淢arking鈥 and 鈥淕rading鈥 have traditionally been used to describe a process where teachers attach a grade, comments or both to student work. This suggests a one-way process, from teacher to student and is often interpreted by students that the learning is over. Giving grades can lead to students developing a performance mindset (focus on immediate success) rather than a mastery mindset (focus on continual improvement). Even when grades are accompanied by comments, studies show that students ignore the comments and focus only on what they think the grade tells them about their performance (Butler, 1988). Over time, research has taught us that providing comments only leads to the greatest improvement in performance.聽

The Many Faces of Feedback

Immediate Feedback

Providing feedback during or immediately after an activity or assessment allows students to integrate the feedback with recently recalled knowledge. Feedback whilst the new content is 鈥榝resh鈥 in students’ minds is thought to better allow students to process the new material along with their own knowledge. In this way, existing knowledge and new information contained in the feedback are combined to give a richer and more complete understanding.

Individual Feedback

Tailoring feedback to individual students’ strengths and weaknesses allows students to focus on the aspects of their work that will lead to the most improvements in their learning. This model of feedback is arguably the most impactful, for obvious reasons, but it can also be time-consuming. Teachers might use this option when a student is sufficiently far from the desired outcome that the only way to move them forward is to engage in reteaching or some other heavily scaffolded form of support.

Delayed Feedback

While immediate feedback is valuable and should be our first course of action, there are times when feedback is given after a delay. This feedback can still be effective if students are encouraged to engage with it fully. By considering past work, students are essentially retrieving knowledge. This knowledge, now fresh in working memory, can be integrated with the feedback to deepen learning. Take caution here, however, as delaying feedback for students who are struggling can result in increased confusion as they lack the knowledge to relate the feedback to their earlier work.

Whole-Class Feedback

With a teacher’s already burdensome workload, providing feedback to the entire group based on common mistakes or misconceptions can be efficient. However, teachers must ensure that whole-class feedback is relevant for as many students as possible. A variation would be small-group feedback where students who have made similar errors or hold the same misconceptions, work with the teacher whilst the rest of the class engage in an independent activity.

Verbal vs. Written Feedback

The mode of feedback delivery does make a difference. Verbal feedback is efficient and can offer immediate engagement, while written feedback gives students a record and something to revisit at a later date. With written feedback, the teacher is to some extent assuming what the student was thinking based on their work. An expert teacher will be correct most of the time but there are always instances where the student has failed to meet the success criteria for some unusual and unexpected reason. This is where verbal feedback is powerful as it allows a dialogue and can be an efficient way to get to the heart of a misunderstanding.

While the effectiveness of feedback models may vary based on context and subject matter, a balanced and dynamic approach is recommended. Combining immediate, individual, verbal and written feedback ensures a comprehensive strategy. 

The Role of Feedback Before, During and After Instruction

For feedback to be effective, teachers should consider how feedback looks at different stages of learning. Feedback should allow students to know: Where am I going? Where am I now? Where to next? Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey (Fisher & Frey, 2009) talk about feeding up, feeding back, and feeding forward.

Feeding Up Before Instruction: Where am I going? 

By communicating success criteria and expectations, teachers can lay the foundations for effective feedback. Students need to understand what success looks like and the criteria by which their work will be measured. Students should also understand that feedback is useless if it isn鈥檛 acted upon and the responsibility to do this rests with them.

Feeding Back During Instruction: Where am I now? 

Providing immediate feedback during the learning process is of great value to students and teachers. This requires using ongoing formative assessment in its many forms, to identify and communicate areas of improvement. Feedback during instruction should enable the student to take their work closer to the expected standard and help them improve in the future. It encourages reflection and self-regulation. 

Feeding Forward After Instruction: Where to next?

Whilst varying definitions exist for feedforward, Fisher and Frey highlight the importance of teachers using the assessment data they have gathered to modify future instruction. This requires flexibility and decision-making and is the essence of responsive teaching. For example, if almost every student makes the same error, then whole-class corrective teaching will likely be the most appropriate next step. However, if only six students make the same error, then small-group, or individual, corrective instruction would be appropriate.

That is all for now. In the final part of this three-part series, we set out our guiding principles for effective feedback and share some practical strategies that can reduce workload and increase the impact of feedback.

Thanks for reading!

References

  1. Butler, R. (1988). Enhancing and undermining intrinsic motivation: The effects of task-involving and ego-involving evaluation on interest and performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 58(1), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.1988.tb00874.x
  2. Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2009, November 1). Feed Up, Back, Forward. EL Magazine, 67(3). https://www.ascd.org/el/articles/feed-up-back-forward


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