A lot of evidence has pointed to the significant positive impact of feedback on student learning and performance over the last 10 years. Many schools have placed great emphasis on tackling how teachers give students feedback to ensured that it has the desired effect – improving learning.
Feedback is quite an easy aspect of teaching to collect data on. Oral feedback is easily observable in the classroom and we can record what is being said, so it forms the basis of professional dialogue afterwards in terms of its effectiveness. We can also measure when either individual or group feedback is being given. It is possible to see from the work returned to students whether the group feedback correlates with the patterns of what students are doing correctly and incorrectly in their work; to determine whether group feedback helps each individual. In terms of written feedback, samples of student work can be collected for discussion with the teacher.
Focused discussion surrounding feedback can throw up many ways that it can become more effective. The five feedback strategies below are ones that, from my recent experiences, through teacher self-reflection and coaching usually form the basis of commencing a journey to improving the effectiveness of feedback:
- Beware of the amount of feedback given to students: Giving more feedback to students does not necessarily mean better. If a student receives a piece of work back they should not have to be confronted with lots of comments. There should be two or three suggestions at most that tell the student what they need to improve upon for next time. This forces teachers to find the most important areas for improvement as opposed to highlighting everything that needs to be addressed.
- Comments should reference to why something needs to improve: While it is important to point out what needs to be improved, the student needs to understand why you are making these suggestions. Why will improving a certain aspect of a presentation, lab report or essay lead to an improved result next time. Where criteria is being used, show how the aspect to improved upon links to the next markband, so the student can see where they need to head.
- Aim to give timely feedback using student self-assessment: It can be difficult to give timely, even immediate feedback to students in certain situations such as when a test has been completed or other assignment submitted. A good way to achieve this is by getting students to engage with a self-assessment. This could be in the form of a checklist where the students can look at their work just prior to submitting it to see if they have met some of the key requisites. By doing this students will get some idea what to expect when they receive their work back later on.
- Give more formative feedback as opposed to summative feedback: Too often the feedback that students receive once the summative assessment is completed is too late. Students need feedback that they can use to improve immediately. When a task is complete and there is no opportunity to redo the task or attempt a similar task immediately or almost immediately afterwards, then the feedback cannot be used productively for the student to make progress. If there is an opportunity to use the feedback at a later date, then tell the students when they will be able to use it and ensure that you draw attention to it at the next opportunity.
- Be mindful of the language used in the feedback: While we know the tone of the feedback can significantly influence how a student receives the feedback, at times the words used in the feedback are not considered enough. Do the students understand what you are telling them? Some of the words I have seen teachers used in their feedback, the students do not understand. If this is the case, how are they supposed to make head or tail of what we are trying to convey to them. Language used in feedback should be easily understood by the student, so that they can make the necessary improvement.
Remember giving good feedback is not about the amount of time we spend on it or the volume of feedback that we give. It is whether our feedback is actually effective in improving student learning that counts.