The Role of Feedback in the Story of Learning: A Guide For Teachers (Part 3)

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This is the third and final part of a series in which we have taken a research-informed look at feedback. In part one we explored the feedback loop, where it occurs during the learning cycle and why feedback sometimes does more harm than good. In part two, we looked at the distinction between marking and feedback, examined various feedback modes and discussed the role of feedback before, during and after instruction. In this final part, we offer some guiding principles and practical strategies to help teachers optimise their time and offer feedback that leads to better learning. This series holds value in its application, and we hope that the reader will actively consider and apply the principles and strategies in their own context.

Guiding Principles for Effective Feedback in the Classroom

Efficiency

To increase the efficiency of the feedback process, teachers should prioritise the time-to-impact ratio by selecting the most efficient mode of feedback for the current needs of their students. As a general rule, we want to choose how and when we give feedback to help the largest number of students move on. Since each mode has merits, a balance between verbal, written, immediate, individual, and whole-class feedback will be appropriate. 

Success criteria

Teachers can enhance the impact of feedback by ensuring that students have a clear understanding of the success criteria against which their work will be measured. Teachers can share detailed success criteria with students as part of their instruction and modelling and should use the success criteria as a framework for the feedback. 

Timing

Timing is crucial, as providing prompt feedback maintains its relevance and allows for improvements whilst the students are still working on the new content. Immediate feedback is especially effective for factual knowledge or correct/incorrect answers. Delaying feedback, especially elaborate feedback, diminishes its impact, and students may perceive feedback about a topic they consider “finished” as pointless.

Content

The specificity of the feedback we provide matters, and we should aim to address individual strengths and areas for improvement aligned with the success criteria. Good feedback contains information the student can use. It should be forward-facing and constructive. It should not overwhelm the student and teachers should prioritise the most important points, considering the success criteria and the student鈥檚 current level of knowledge. 

Culture

Fostering a positive culture around feedback is essential. Emphasising its constructive nature – 鈥淚 am giving you feedback because I know you can do this鈥 – will help build and maintain a culture of continuous improvement. We want to shift the narrative away from 鈥渨rong is bad鈥 and create a culture where students understand that to improve is to learn. 

Action

Teachers should remember that feedback should be a two-way process, with the understanding that the feedback they provide should result in action from the student. Bear in mind that some students are better able to act upon feedback than others. Using feedback is a skill that can be taught. Teachers and schools should allow opportunities for students to develop and practise this skill. Allocating sufficient time for students to act upon feedback is an important but often omitted stage in the feedback process. If we take the time to provide feedback, we must set aside time for our students to act upon it. 

Closing the loop

Furthermore, teachers frequently omit the opportunity to complete the ‘loop,’ meaning that students do not get the chance to demonstrate improvement following feedback. The success of our feedback should be evaluated based on the post-feedback performance of students and planning opportunities for students to use feedback to produce better work is worthwhile. This could be as simple as redoing a quiz or giving a new quiz based on the same success criteria. It can take time at first but we can create opportunities for students to compare past work to recent work so they can make the connection between the feedback they received and the improvements in their work.

Feedback Based on Success Criteria

Imagine a mathematics class where students are 鈥淎dding proper fractions…using a common denominator鈥. A superficial success criterion might be 鈥淕et the correct answer鈥 but we know we need to be much more detailed. Teachers should think hard about 鈥榳hat a good one looks like鈥 and communicate each feature to the students. 

We can incorporate these detailed success criteria into our feedback and the more specific the success criteria, the more we can help students understand exactly how to improve. Imagine a teacher has taught her class about 鈥淎dding proper fractions…using a common denominator鈥. She has given them a quiz and collected their papers. To avoid repeatedly writing comments on the papers, the teacher can use a symbol system with a unique symbol for each success criterion.  

If we have comprehensive success criteria, then most of the potential errors will be covered. Marking becomes a case of putting ticks next to correct answers and a symbol (or symbols) next to those that are not yet correct. The teacher can return the papers to the class and project the symbols and the corresponding success criteria on the board. She gives the students time to match up the symbols, perhaps even write down the corresponding comment before they attempt their corrections. 

Some students will inevitably have more corrections than others. To allow all students time to respond to their feedback, the teacher should provide some additional material, either more practice or an enrichment task for those who finish their corrections quickly. The teacher should also be on hand and actively engage with her students during their corrections to ensure feedback has been interpreted correctly. Ideally, any additional practice should allow students the opportunity to apply their feedback to similar questions or problems. In this way, the value of engaging with feedback is clear.

Live Marking/Feedback

This process involves giving feedback within a lesson, either in written or verbal form, with the expectation that it will be acted on immediately. Live feedback is useful as it provides in-the-moment guidance for the student and allows for the immediate addressing of misconceptions. During independent practice, we want to quickly and efficiently make our way around the entire group, aiming to see all students get a sense of how the group is doing. To increase efficiency, it is helpful to have a pre-prepared teacher answer sheet and use this to record any notes. As we circulate the room in a structured way, e.g. row by row, examining student work, one strategy is to tick correct answers and place a dot next to anything incorrect. Encourage students to go back to questions which have a dot and attempt to correct them. It can be tempting to stop and tell the student where the mistake lies, or how to resolve it but there is value in having the student look over the work again and attempt to find and fix the error. At this stage, a comment such as 鈥淭here’s an arithmetic error in this one鈥 or 鈥淎re you sure that you have answered this question fully?鈥 may be appropriate. During this process, teachers may choose to make a note of which students are struggling with which questions and in doing so, they build a picture of how the whole group is getting on.

Once the teacher has seen every student, the decision on how to proceed will depend on the data that has been gathered.

If a large number of students are encountering difficulties, stopping the group and providing further instruction might be the most appropriate action. However, if our initial instruction was effective, we transitioned students to independent practice at the appropriate time, and the practice aligns with the examples we provided, stopping them all should not be necessary. Instead, teachers might decide to pull together a subgroup or return to individual students to provide more comprehensive one-to-one feedback. 

One-to-One live feedback

As we monitor student work, it can often be that a student only needs a minor clarification or a hint to move their learning forward. In some cases, a model or scaffolding may develop understanding. In other cases, you can use an additional question or prompt to check understanding.

Hint

Model

Scaffolding 

Check for understanding

Conclusion

This three-part series has explored the role feedback plays in the story of learning, offering insights into its significance, nuances, and potential pitfalls. We have highlighted the importance of specificity, timing, and building a constructive culture around feedback. By aligning feedback with clearly defined success criteria and exploring live marking approaches, teachers can enhance the learning experience and encourage students to actively engage with and act upon feedback. Reflecting upon these guiding principles and practical strategies, what changes might you make to the way you use feedback in your teaching? Feel free to share your thoughts not only on changes you might make but also on your overall experience with feedback strategies in the comments below.

That鈥檚 all for now.

Thanks for reading.



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