10.2: Feedback

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Dr Cameron Brooks from the School of Education at The University of Queensland explores what conditions are important for effective feedback and how powerful effective feedback can be for deep learning.

CAMERON BROOKS: Effective feedback is essential for deep learning. Though, what is often overlooked is the potential for feedback to have variable effects on learning.

The use of feedback is regarded as one of the most powerful strategies to improve student achievement and you may or may not be aware of just how much attention it receives in education policy and practice. As we explore effective feedback, I want you to reflect on ways feedback has influenced you in your own learning journey.

Feedback is typically viewed as information given to the student which is designed to cause modifications of actions and result in learning.

Recently, this cause-and-effect notion of feedback has been challenged as the provision of feedback is no guarantee of learning. Research suggests that much of feedback that is given is in fact rarely used by students. For this reason, we need to focus upon how feedback is being received rather than just how feedback is given. The effects of feedback on learning have been studied by educational and psychological researchers since the early 20th century.

Feedback is typically related with greater academic achievement, improvements in student work, and enhanced student motivation. Further investigation of feedback research, however, reveals that feedback produces highly variable effects upon learning. Numerous variables are identified in feedback literature that affect how feedback is received and used by students. These including the purpose, focus and timing of feedback.

Feedback can serve many different purposes such as to provide: a grade, a justification of a grade, a qualitative description of the work, praise, encouragement, identification of errors, suggestions of how to fix errors and guidance on how to improve the work standard.

• Feedback can be directive and tell students where they went wrong or facilitative and provide guidance on how to improve.
• Feedback that includes elaborations about how to improve is more likely to lead to improvements in learning efficiency and student achievement.
• Improvement based feedback that includes guidance is more effective than statements about whether work is right or wrong as it takes into consideration how feedback is received by learners.

Literature on student perceptions of feedback includes findings that students become frustrated with feedback that is too general or tells them where they went wrong but does not provide guidance on how to improve. Effective feedback tells students how they are doing in relation to goals and criteria and then provides guidance and opportunities for improvement.

Unfortunately, much of feedback that is given in classrooms is directed to the self, rather than to these specific learning elements of tasks. Research directed to the self, most commonly given as praise, has been found to have negative impacts upon learning as it can contribute towards learners developing a mindset that sees achievement as a fixed attribute rather than something to be worked on and improved.

Early, behavioristic feedback models used feedback as a means of reinforcement of behavior with the belief that feedback needs to be immediate to help condition a response. As cognitivist theories emerged, researchers began to investigate the effects of immediate versus delayed feedback upon learning.

Immediate feedback vs. delayed feedback

Immediate feedback is more likely to be effective for the acquisition of verbal, procedural and some motor skills. While immediate feedback is helpful during initial task acquisition, it can negate deeper learning during tasks that encourage fluency and development of skills and understanding.

In fact, delayed feedback can be more effective for difficult tasks due to the benefits associated with learners’ processing and thinking about methods to satisfy task requirements. Therefore, delayed feedback may be beneficial for deeper learning where learning concepts can be transferred from one context to another. This is of course dependent upon the type of task and the developmental capability of the learner.

Four common, key conditions for effective feedback are evident from research:

1. Clarifying expectations and standards for the learner.
2. Scheduling ongoing, targeted feedback within the learning period.
3. Fostering practices to develop self-assessment, and
4. Providing feed forward opportunities to close the feedback loop.

Let’s have a look at each of these conditions in more detail.

1. Clarifying expectations and standards for the learner.

larifying expectations and standards for the learner is a key prerequisite for effective feedback practice. The clarification of criteria and standards at the beginning of, or at least during the learning cycle, orients learners towards purposeful actions designed to satisfy or even exceed the learning intent or goals.

Feedback pertaining to expectations and standards that arrives at the conclusion of the learning cycle is terminal and of limited value, primarily due to the learner not being given further opportunity to be able to implement the feedback. Feedback has the potential to be increasingly powerful when the task intent and the criteria for success can be matched to challenging learning goals.

Goals are a powerful strategy for focusing the intention of learners on the feedback standard gap, for instance, the difference between where the learner currently is in the learning cycle, and where they need to be at the end of the learning journey. Teachers need to be clear and specific when providing guidance on expectations as students hold different interpretations of the learning intent from their instructors.

An example of an effective strategy for clarifying expectations and standards is the use of exemplars or models. Exemplars are particularly effective as they clearly depict the required standards and enable students to make a direct comparison between their own work and the stated standards of the exemplar. Students also report they value feedback that is matched to the assessment criteria.

Crucially, feedback pertaining to the clarification of the expectations and standards lays the platform for students to monitor their own learning progress, and this is a key facet of self-regulated learning.

2. Scheduling ongoing, targeted feedback within the learning period.

Ongoing, targeted and specific feedback received within the current learning period is more powerful than feedback received after learning.

Hence, formative, rather than summative assessment is a key process for creating opportunities for feedback. Formative assessment provides learners with opportunities to both receive and implement feedback with a view to improving their work. The scheduling of formative assessment check points throughout the learning period gives students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, understandings and skills.

Formative assessment also provides teachers with an evidence base of how their students are tracking towards achieving the learning intent. By comparing the learning intent and criteria for success with the students’ current learning state (as evidenced within their formative assessment samples), teachers can direct their attention to the gap between where the learner is currently situated and where they need to be. Teachers can then draw upon pedagogical practices such as differentiation and scaffolding to meet the individual needs of learners before the conclusion of the learning period.

3. Fostering practices to develop self-assessment

Self-regulation is a key process within an effective model of feedback for deep learning. Self-regulated learners are cognizant of both the standards and criteria and their own current levels of performance or achievement. To develop self-regulatory behaviors, learners must be regularly engaged in tasks and activities that are matched to the criteria for success and include processes, such as self-assessment, that encourage critical thinking and reflection.

Calibration mechanisms such as self-review, retrieval questions, peer feedback, comparison with models and exemplars all allow students to compare their work against given standards and importantly, identify areas for improvement.

Self-assessment thus forms part of self-regulation where students can direct and monitor actions to achieve the learning intent. Students who develop self-regulatory learning habits become willing and active seekers of feedback.

4. Providing feed forward opportunities to close the feedback loop.

The final condition for effective feedback is the provision of opportunities for students to implement the feedback and close the feedback loop. The closing of the feedback loop is crucial as it requires learners to act on earlier feedback that they have received or self-generated. Often termed feed forward, this highly valued process is often missing from some learning episodes, due to delays in students receiving the feedback or misinterpretation of the feedback content.

Thus, feed forward is heavily reliant on the previously discussed three conditions of effective feedback. When further consideration is given to incrementally increasing task challenge, feed forward opportunities can foster great improvement in learners.

In conclusion, variables such as the purpose, focus and timing of feedback can cause feedback to be received differently by learners. Teachers need to strive to provide conditions for learners where feedback is more likely to be effective. These conditions include, the clarification of expectations, the use of ongoing formative assessment, feedback that is aimed at developing self-regulation and the provision of feed forward opportunities.

In this video below, Dr. Cameron Brooks from the University of Queensland, provides effective feedback, coaching for teachers in Brisbane, Australia. Watch Cameron working with teachers and think about the types of feedback teachers receive.

In this next video Dr. Cameron Brooks from The University of Queensland, talks about his own model that he has developed for effective feedback.

Click here to watch the video (8:41 minutes). The Feedback Matrix can be printed out at the link.

10.2: Feedback is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.