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Responding to Feedback

Updated: Nov 24, 2022

The Early Career Framework states that teachers must learn that... Over time, feedback should support pupils to monitor and regulate their own learning.

The task of feedback is to help students close the gap in performance. However, students can only identify the gap if they understand the goal of the teaching and their learning.

Van den Bergh et al (2014) argue that the quality of feedback is determined partly by whether clear learning goals are established and communicated. There is very good evidence that setting specific goals, often with criteria for a high quality performance on a task, effectively and significantly increases individual performance.

Similar evidence of improved outcomes associated with formative assessment are reported by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Its paper, Formative Assessment: Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms (2005) reports that formative assessment not only raises the level of student attainment, it also increases equity of student outcomes and improves attendance and students’ ability to learn. A key factor in making these gains is establishing and communicating learning goals, tracking progress and, where necessary, adapting goals to better meet student needs. This also means educators need to consider students’ prior understanding and skills.

Establishing clear goals also enables another key feature of high quality feedback: initiation of student self-assessment and peer assessment. Self-assessment is closely related to the “self-regulation” level of feedback, which focuses on how students manage and monitor their own actions in pursuit of a learning goal. Feedback at this level “is powerful in terms of deep processing and mastery of tasks”(Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Andrade and Valtcheva (2009) assert that self-assessment should be criterion-referenced. Students reflect on the quality of their work, judge the extent to which it meets goals or criteria, and revise it accordingly. Students who set goals make plans to meet them and monitor their progress, learn more and do better in school. These “learning to learn” skills enable students to succeed in the world beyond school, enhancing “the ability to define goals, adjust learning strategies, and to assess one’s own work and one’s peers’ work”(OECD, 2005).

Whilst peer- and self-assessment may give students a better understanding of the criteria describing what quality work looks like, these are not automatic processes (Harris et al, 2015). They need to be fostered and encouraged, and students need training in feedback to gain maximum benefit. Student self-assessment, in which students have an overview of their goals and progress, in turn feeds back into improved teaching, because students and teachers can discuss goals and reflect on progress.

Characteristics of Effective Feedback

Educative in Nature

Providing feedback means giving students an explanation of what they are doing correctly AND incorrectly, with the focus of the feedback on what the students is doing right. It is most productive to a student’s learning when they are provided with an explanation as to what is accurate and inaccurate about their work. One technique is to use the concept of a “feedback sandwich” to guide your feedback: Compliment, Correct, Compliment.

Given In a Timely Manner

When student feedback is given immediately after showing proof of learning, the student responds and remembers the experience about what is being learned more positively. If we wait too long to give feedback, the student might not connect the feedback with the learning moment.

Sensitive to the Individual Needs of the Student

It is vital that we take into consideration each individual when giving student feedback. Our classrooms are full of diverse learners. Some students need to be nudged to achieve at a higher level and other needs to be handled gently so as not to discourage learning and damage self-esteem.

Answers the 4 Questions

Studies of effective teaching and learning (Dinham, 2002, 2007a; 2007b) have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work. Providing answers to the following four questions on a regular basis will help provide quality student feedback.

  • What can the student do?

  • What can’t the student do?

  • How does the student’s work compare with that of others?

  • How can the student do better?

Provides a Model or Example

Communicate with your students the purpose for an assessment and/or student feedback. Demonstrate to students what you are looking for by giving them an example of what an A+ paper looks like. Provide a contrast of what a C- paper looks like. This is especially important at the upper learning levels.

Suggestions for Effective and Efficient Grading Feedback

The most effective feedback is focused, clear, and considers motivation and learning, not justifying a grade or on SPAG. Below are suggested strategies for providing efficient & effective student feedback.

  • Use comments to teach rather than to justify the grade, focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work. Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment.

  • Plan early opportunities for students to get feedback on ways of thinking, writing, or problem solving that they will need later, so that they don’t develop or repeat common errors. In-class active or collaborative learning exercises can be good moments to provide formative feedback in class, when students are practicing new skills or learning new concepts.

  • Avoid over-commenting or “picking apart” students’ work.

  • In your final comments, ask questions that will guide further inquiry by students.

  • Think about alternatives to writing comments on every individual student’s work. Provide feedback to the whole class orally and/or in a shared written document, or have the class read sample student work together to look for common themes or apply evaluation criteria.

You could also consider DIRT, which stands for

  • Directed/dedicated

  • Improvement/Independent

  • Reflection

  • Time

DIRT is a great way for students to act upon the feedback that you have given as their teacher.

DIRT allows students to reflect/act upon the comments that have been written, as feedback. Therefore ensuring the feedback is being put to use and is supporting the progress of our students, not for their next piece of work but NOW – today, in their lesson.

‘DIRT lessons’ can take as long as you feel necessary, they can form the starter or for longer pieces of work (controlled assessment?) take the whole lesson.

A great way to show progress of your students and a way of them seeing the improvements that they have made, is to get students to complete the ‘DIRT’ work in a different colour. DIRT can be used for peer assessment also – clear, measurable lesson objectives can support students giving peer to peer assessment.

Use the following links for more information:

[ECF Further reading recommendations are indicated with an asterisk.]

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