Types of feedback
Feedback can take many forms such as oral, written, informal, formal, descriptive, evaluative, peer and self-assessed feedback. It is the quality of feedback that counts.
Students and parents need to be made aware of the different forms of feedback, and that comments or oral feedback, can be just as impactful and important as marks.
Chappuis (2012) describes 3 conditions, regardless of the form of feedback, that need to be in place before offering feedback:
- students need a clear vision of the intended learning
- instructional activities need to align directly with the intended learning and students need to see that connection
- assessments need to be set up so that students can interpret the results as indicators of what they have or have not yet learned.
Feedback can take many forms, some are more effective than others, some are equally as effective as others and some overlap with each other.
Oral and written feedback
Oral feedback is usually given during a lesson while written feedback tends to be given after a task.
Oral feedback is sometimes underestimated because it is less formal, but it can be a very powerful and effective tool as it can be provided easily in the ‘teachable moment’ and in a timely way.
Asking students 'What do you notice about ______?' or 'How does this match the criteria?' stimulates their thinking about their learning.
Effective written feedback provides students with a record of what they are doing well, what needs improvement and suggested next steps.
Effective written feedback also needs to be timely, written in a manner that is understandable to the student and actionable so that the student can make revisions.
Written feedback needs to include information about where the student has met the learning intentions and/or success criteria and where improvement is still required.
When to give feedback
Ideally, feedback takes place during the learning as students work on a task. Or it can be offered as soon as possible after the task, allowing time for improvements to be made.
Feedback during learning allows students to take feedback on board immediately and to try to realise improvement during the learning process. This is often more effective and productive to the learning experience than end-of task feedback measures (usually summative) which require students to remember the feedback and apply the recommended strategies to a future task.
Too often feedback that is provided to students after learning has concluded is not used by the students to improve their work. This often results in teachers making the same comments over and over again, and wondering why the student has not transferred the information to another context.
For such feedback to influence subsequent learning, students must remember it, translate it into advice that is transferable across tasks, and apply it the next time they encounter a task in which this learning could apply.
Evaluative and descriptive feedback
Feedback can also be either evaluative, involving a value judgment, or descriptive, providing guidance for improvement.
Evaluative feedback, in the form of grades or brief general comments, for example 'well done', provides some information about learning, but does not convey the information and guidance that students can use to improve.
In attempting to create a positive climate for learning, many teachers increase the level of praise they give during feedback sessions. Research shows, however, that praise needs to be realistic if the feedback is to be meaningful. To be really effective, praise needs to confirm a child's own sense of reality. The impact of feedback on learning achievement has been found to be low when it is focused on praise, rewards and punishment.
Descriptive feedback provides students with detailed, specific information about improving their learning.
So this means descriptive feedback is linked to the learning that is expected, addresses faulty interpretations and lack of understanding and provides students with visible and manageable ‘next steps’. These ‘next steps’ are based on an assessment of the work at hand and an image of what ‘good work looks like’ so that they can begin to take on the responsibility of self-assessing and self-correcting.
An example of descriptive feedback is: 'That’s a good introduction because you have covered the main points we discussed at the beginning. Now … which points do you think you should expand on?'
Informal and formal feedback
Teachers can meet with a few students per day or per week depending on specific projects, deadlines and individual student needs. It is important to plan these conferences in a structured way with a focus on individualised goals so both teacher and student make good use of their time.
When preparing and holding student-teacher conferences, remember the following:
- look at student work beforehand
- use a checklist or feedback form that students can use as a reference for making revisions
- focus on 2 or 3 items that need work and show how to improve them
- make time for the student to ask questions and give input.
When teachers use formal conferencing along with informal feedback, students are better protected from failure, and are set up for success.
Informal check-ins can be used to see how students are progressing and usually occur during the learning. ‘Check ins’ are considered informal and are vitally important to providing effective feedback. They:
- occur when the teacher visits students as they are engaged in a task to make sure they are on the right track
- can quickly and effectively steer students in the right direction and enhance learning.
Formal feedback is often written or a combination of oral and written, and usually occurs at the end of a task. It can be provided through structured conferences with specific goals.
Peer and self-feedback
Peer feedback occurs when students offer each other advice and suggestions in relation to each other’s work. Self-feedback must be taught explicitly to ensure students have the skills to apply this to their own work.
One way to facilitate peer feedback is through the use of structured peer conferences. This provide students with the opportunity to give and receive feedback about ongoing work and a positive aspect is that students get to see other students’ work which can also deepen understanding of the learning goals.
Once students have had time to practice, know what the requirements are, and are aware of expectations, peer conferences can be an integral part of the feedback process.
As with teacher feedback, peers can offer suggestions and comments on:
- what has been done well in relation to the learning intention/ success criteria
- what still needs to be done in order to achieve the learning intention/ success criteria
- how to achieve that improvement.
However, left to their own devices to give feedback, many students will use the time to chat, criticise the other students’ work or get nothing done. To counteract this teachers need to:
- model and role play how to give feedback in a constructive way
- explicitly teach students how to provide effective feedback to each other
- hold students accountable for the comments, suggestions and feedback they give one another
- use scaffolds like peer feedback forms, which can be checked by the teacher to provide more structure to peer conferences.
Self-feedback is the ultimate goal of feedback for learning. Teachers can help students to become more independent through explicit modelling and instruction, and teaching the skills of self-assessment and goal setting.
To help students reach autonomy teachers can:
- explicitly identify, share and clarify learning goals and success criteria
- model the application of criteria using samples
- provide guided opportunities for self-feedback*
- teach students how to use feedback to determine next steps and set goals
- allow time for self-feedback/reflection.
- Chappuis, J. (2012, September). Leadership for Learning: How am I doing? Educational Leadership, 70(1), 36-41.
- Hattie & Timperley (2007)
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