Research tells us that for feedback to be effective it needs to be “precise, timely, specific, accurate and actionable” (Victorian Government, 2022). Teachers are heroes, but with many educators teaching five different classes over multiple-year levels with up to thirty students in each class, providing this individualised feedback might seem impossible.
In this article, we look at what effective feedback is, how it can help learners, plus some ideas on how to implement it consistently and with ease.
What is effective feedback?
Feedback exists in myriad forms such as written, oral, formal, informal, self-assessed or peer-based (New South Wales Government, 2021). It’s a critical part of the learning process that allows students to learn from their mistakes, understand concepts more authentically and guide future learning goals (Hattie, 2009).
However, for feedback to be effective, it’s not enough to provide simple right or wrong answers, but rather, provide further information on how well students have understood the learning intentions and success criteria (Gal, 2021). Its sole purpose is to help learners and educators determine the quality of understanding, on both an individual and class level (Victorian Government, 2022). From here, it can redirect the actions of teachers and the effort of students (Victorian Government, 2022).
Not all feedback is created equal and the following elements make feedback more effective:
- Focuses on the quality of the learners’ efforts and products
- Encourages and challenges students to learn more
- Identifies both strengths and weaknesses
- Is specific
- Is directly linked to the learning intentions and success criteria (Victorian Government, 2022).
This is important to keep this in mind as we don’t want our efforts to go to waste.
The benefits of feedback
Research shows that quality feedback has a significant positive impact on student learning, specifically it has a strong impact on how well students master content.
For any statistics buffs, Hattie (2009) did a lot of statistical leg work for us and showed that the use of feedback had an effect size of 0.73. This statistical test looks to measure the size of the effect, rather than just stating if there is statistical significance (Balow, 2017). It is calculated as the standardised mean difference between two groups, in this case whether feedback was used or not (Balow, 2017).
This means that the results of the average learner in the test group was 0.73 standard deviations higher than the average learner in the control group, showing how much of an impact the addition of feedback can have (Balow, 2017).
Interestingly, many studies showed that elaborative feedback or feedback around where and how students could improve had a higher effect size than simple feedback (Gal, 2021). Simple feedback could include yes or no responses, punishment, praise or rewards (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). This was corroborated in a paper looking at student perspectives on feedback. Dawson et al. (2018) surveyed almost 5000 students, where it was evident that teacher comments which were actionable, highly detailed and personalised to students' work were the most effective and well-received.
So the research clearly shows us that by providing quality feedback students' overall understanding is improved and they are more likely to reach the intended learning goals.
Interestingly though, it was also found that when learners are expecting high-quality feedback they employed better learning strategies from the start of the task and placed more effort into their work (Vollmeyer & Rheinberg, 2005). In addition, they were able to master the content over a shorter period. So when you are trying to get through the curriculum and running out of time this might be a big help!
It is also important to discuss the role technology plays in providing feedback in current classrooms. Many teachers have access to digital technologies and luckily for them, and their students, research has found that these programs can help aid in the delivery of feedback. Specifically, feedback can be delivered in a more timely manner, in a variety of ways and more directly related to the student’s issues (Gal, 2021). While the effect sizes of these delivery methods are varied, it is documented to be a great way to deliver corrective information to students (Gal, 2021).
Having clear success criteria for each lesson makes providing tailored and elaborative feedback easier. This is because teachers know exactly what they need to be commenting on for students to be successful and master the learning intention. It is also a good way to ask students to be self-reflective before submitting work and with any luck, they may find a way to improve before you need to tell them 😃
Feedback in the classroom
We know the what and the why—let’s get into the how. This article is not going to focus on the best ways to provide elaborative feedback around larger tasks and assessment tasks. This is something most teachers are already nailing. Rather, let’s look at how to use feedback effectively on a smaller, more consistent scale.
Teachers and students talk a lot during a lesson. There is so much teaching and learning that happens within those conversations and oral feedback is often overlooked because it is not as formal as other approaches (NSW Government, 2021). However, oral feedback can be powerful as it is provided in the moment, making it incredibly timely (NSW Government, 2021). This is also a huge time saver for teachers as they are not collecting work, marking it, and handing it back for students to review and correct. In the moment teachers can question students, encourage them to think about their responses, reflect on the success criteria and look at areas of weakness.
Picking between three to five students every lesson (depending on the number of students in the class and the nature of the task) to focus on is an ideal place to start. By pinpointing students you can make sure everyone is getting seen at some point throughout the week and keeping a list of this either in your notes, laptop or even using paddle pop sticks with student names can be helpful. From here you can look at student work, and ask questions such as “can you see where you have already met the success criteria?” or “how do you think we can improve on this answer? Let’s look at the sample answer provided and talk about it.”
Students love to talk, so let’s put it to good use!
If you are looking for a model to use when delivering feedback, Hattie and Timperley (2007) have a “Feed Up, Feed Back, Feed Forward” strategy. In this approach, students consider three questions.
- Feed Up: What are the learning intentions I am working to achieve?
- Feed Back: How do I compare to the success criteria?
- Feed Forward: How can I improve? (Victorian Government, 2022).
Teachers already have too much marking to do so adding more marking for daily activities isn’t always going to be possible. However, we know that written feedback is very effective in improving student work so let’s see how we can do it simply.
This strategy requires the educator to use a student or manufactured example to mark in front of the class. Typically, the teacher will display the work and verbalise the marking process as they work through the answer with the success criteria (Pearsall, 2018). Students would then follow along and mark their work, or the work of their peers. By doing this, teachers can not only demystify the marking process but also point out any troublesome areas while having students reflect and improve on their work (Pearsall, 2018). This moves students from passively to actively participating in the feedback process.
Students love to give their opinion so providing them with a platform to do this can often be a big winner. With peer feedback, students will provide advice and offer suggestions for other students' work (NSW Government, 2021). It is important to teach students to do this activity correctly and it can take some time to get the hang of it, but once mastered students can provide each written feedback in almost every lesson, without teachers having to mark a thing. Suggestions on how to set this up would be to provide scaffolds, such as peer marking forms that students can use as a checklist, ensure you periodically check student comments to hold them accountable and model and role-play effective feedback (NSW Government, 2021).
Finding ways to save time is always on a teacher's list. Leaning on digital resources to help mark student work can provide effective and time-efficient feedback to students. Platforms such as Atomi with auto-marked and self-marked questions can be an ideal solution for educators wanting to provide feedback consistently, both in the classroom and at home.
In addition, online websites such as Kahoot, or Quizlet can be used to create quizzes that not only test knowledge but provide students with guiding information as to why they are getting information wrong (these mainly focus on recall style questions, which are still important but don’t always go into enough depth for students).
We know that including effective feedback is a high impact teaching strategy that will help students reach their learning goals. It is important to consider what strategies are right for you and your students and encourage them to take ownership of their learning process and be active participants in the journey. Whether you pick one approach or mix it up, your students will be thankful for your time in identifying growth opportunities, whether they say it or not is another story!
Keen to implement high impact strategies in your classroom? But not sure where to start?
Discover the ultimate guide to HITS—an exploration of ten high impact teaching strategies, condensed into short chapters and paired with practical tips, tricks and templates to embed into your teaching instruction.
Sarah-Eleni Zaferis (Bachelor of Education and Science) writes on all things pedagogy, teaching strategies, student and teacher wellbeing. As a high-school educator herself, she is passionate about exploring the ways that educators can put time back in their day while boosting student engagement, motivation, and academic achievement.
- The Department of Education and Training, 2022, High impact teaching strategies (HITS), Victorian Government
- The Deparatment of Education and Training, 2022, Feedback and reporting, Victorian Government
- Gal, T. 2021, Elaborated Feedback: Learners’ Preferences, Use and Actual Effect, EdMedia and Innovate Learning.
- The Department of Education Education, 2021. Types of Feedback, New South Wales Government
- Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning, Oxford, UK: Routledge, p173
- Hattie, J and Timperley, H. 2007. The Power of Feedback, Review of Educational Research.
- Dawson, P. & Henderson, M. & Mahoney, P. & Phillips, M. & Ryan, T. & Boug, D. and Molloy, E. 2019. What makes for effective feedback: staff and student perspectives. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.
- Vollmeyer, R & Rheinberg, F. 2005. A surprising effect of feedback on learning. Learning and Instruction, 15(6).
- Pearsall, G. 2018. Fast and Effective Assessment. How to reduce your workload and improve student learning. ASCD.
- Balow, C. 2017, The “effect size” in Education Research: What is it and how to use it?