Feedback is something that tells you if you’re on the right track or not. In a nutshell, feedback is information provided on the performance or understanding of a task which can then be used to improve this performance or understanding. Feedback helps to close the gap between actual performance and intended performance. There are a multitude of different types of feedback and we encounter many of these in our everyday lives.
Feedback can come from a diverse variety of sources as well. Feedback doesn’t need to be formal. In fact, some feedback is very informal and we hardly recognize it for what it is. Feedback has a powerful influence on learning and in particular on deep engagement with content. If we would like our students to have a full understanding of a task and gain skills they can use in the future and transfer to other tasks, then effective feedback on learning is crucial.
For a fuller understanding of the nature of feedback and closing the gap between actual performance and intended performance, we need to explore the different purposes, types, and levels of feedback and ask three important questions:
The first question is about the learning goals: ‘What did I do well?’
The second question that has to be answered is: ‘What do I need to improve?’ Learners need to know how the current performance relates to the learning goals.
Finally, learners will ask: ‘How do I improve?’ What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?
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.
Four common, key conditions for effective feedback are evident from research:
Let’s have a look at each of these conditions in more detail.
MELISSA CAIN: Have you ever been asked to provide feedback to a friend or colleague? Did you find that easy? What concerns did you have? Were you worried that your feedback wouldn’t be welcomed or that it might not be helpful?
Alternative assessment methods such peer assessment are growing in popularity and have been found to receive a more positive response from students than more traditional assessment approaches. Engaging in peer feedback as part of the formative assessment process develops a range of critical thinking skills and is important in developing deep learning competencies.
Stephen Bostock, Head of the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Assessment at Glyndwr University relates that there are many benefits in providing and receiving peer feedback. Engaging in peer feedback gives students a sense of belonging and encourages a sense of ownership in the process.
This type of engagement also helps students recognize assessment criteria; and develops a wide range of transferable skills. Interacting with their peers in this manner provides learners opportunities to problem solve and reflect. It increases a sense of responsibility, promotes independent learning and encourages them to be open to a variety of perspectives. Commenting on the work of peers enables learners to engage with assessment criteria; thus, inducting them into assessment practices and tacit knowledge. Learners are then able to develop an understanding of standards which they can potentially transfer of their own work.
Challenges of peer assessment
There are, however, some challenges surrounding the provision of effective peer feedback. Ryan Daniel, professor of creative arts at James Cook University, suggests that there exists the potential for resistance to peer feedback as it appears to challenge the authority of teachers as experts.
Indeed, students themselves have strong views about the effectiveness of peer assessment methods. This includes an awareness of their own deficiencies in subject areas; not being sure of their own objectivity; the influence of interpersonal factors such as friendship; and the belief that it is not their job but the teachers’ to provide feedback.
Learners may also be cautious of being criticized by their peers and worry about a lack of confidence in their ability to provide effective feedback. Part of this issue relates to the issue of teacher power in the classroom. As this power is usually considered absolute by students, they may in fact, consider their role to please teachers rather than demonstrate their learning in providing feedback. Providing effective peer feedback cannot be a one time event. Learners need to be prepared over time to provide effective feedback.
Spiller (2011) suggests that learners need to be coached using examples and models and should be involved in establishing their own assessment criteria if possible. Teachers should demonstrate how they can match the work of a learner to an exemplar which most closely resembles its qualities. And everyone should engage in rich discussions about the process following the provision of peer feedback. As students become better at providing peer feedback over time, they gain confidence and become more competent at it.
Learning to provide peer feedback has many advantages. Most importantly, when students evaluate their peers’ work and provide timely, specific, and personalized feedback, they have the opportunity to scrutinize their own work as well. And this is a critical factor in deep learning.
Peer Critique: Creating a Culture of Revision
Your students can improve their work by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in the work of others.
Be Kind, Be Specific, Be Helpful