What are the conditions for delivering effective feedback?

Effective assessment for formative purposes provides key information that teachers and learners need. Like so much of what we do as teachers, feedback does not exist in a vacuum. It interacts with many of the other processes that come with teaching; notably, it comes part and parcel with effective assessment.

Assessment for formative purposes provides key information that teachers need. If we agree that feedback is information on a task, then educators must choose an appropriate task that will give opportunity to gather that information to then provide feedback on.

Teachers have a wide range of choices on the format these assessments can take. Ultimately, these decisions are driven by purpose. A valid purpose could be an opportunity to provide information for learners, just as much as to provide information for teachers.

Three conditions for delivering effective feedback

Jonsson and Panadero (2018) offer three conditions that encourage students to take feedback onboard:

  1. Feedback needs to be perceived as useful by the students. They need to have the ability to understand it as well as the ability and opportunity to act upon it. If we say, “Next time, try…” we need to make sure there will be a next time. If feedback is pitched at a level that is too difficult, a student may not make any attempts to work with it and the feedback is wasted.
  2. Students need strategies for using their feedback. Students are often passive recipients of feedback; it’s easy to say, “Sure, I’ll do that next time…” and yet rarely give it further active thought. Different types of feedback can attempt to convey these strategies to students. They can be very explicit instructions, like, “Keep a list of the words you’ve spelled incorrectly; keep it handy to check when you write.” Or they can be very subtle, “How can you check this in the future?”.
  3. Feedback should be delivered without a grade. Numerous studies recommend avoiding sharing a grade with students (Butler, 1987; McColskey & Leary, 1985; Wiliam, 2007*). Like the “shock value” that comes with confidence, disparity between expected and actual grades can affect how much students engage with it. It may also lead to a gamification, with students focusing only on feedback that would result in grade increases.

Just like it’s important to build a positive ethos around assessment, it is necessary to do the same with feedback. Through creating an environment that tries to orient students towards learning, instead of performance, teachers can start to create this ethos (e.g. Dweck, 1986); this can mean failure is welcome—or even celebrated by teachers. Just like assessment can be regular and low-stakes, so too can feedback.

Next steps

For more on delivering effective and meaningful feedback to your students, download our free eBook here. For professional development opportunities, our Assessment Essentials course dedicates a whole unit of learning to the power and potential of feedback. Try a free sample of the course here.

*Wiliam, D. (2007). Keeping learning on track: Classroom assessment and the regulation of learning. In F. K. Lester (Ed.), Second handbook of mathematics teaching and learning (pp. 1053–1098). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing.

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