Outside of a formal learning environment, we have lots of tools and interactions that provide us with feedback on a daily basis. Think about each of the following. What information does each convey? In what ways are each of them useful (or not useful)? What can we do with the information they each provide?
- A kitchen thermometer for cooking
- Password reminder hints for logging in
- A satellite navigation system for driving
- A rejection letter for a job application
- A pet’s reaction for attention
Clearly, certain pieces of information are actionable and useful in some contexts, but not in others: you wouldn’t take the temperature of your food with a satellite navigation system! In the classroom, we need to match the type and timing of feedback with the purpose and context in which it is experienced.
Effective feedback questions
The feedback we provide to students can provide the same sorts of information. Hattie and Timperley (2007) say that effective feedback addresses these three key points to learners:
- Where am I going? (i.e. What are the goals?)
- How am I doing? (i.e. What progress is being made toward the goal?)
- Where to next? (i.e. What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)
In the same way that assessment ought to be driven by its purpose, so too should the feedback align with the purpose it seeks to serve. Does the purpose aim to increase the accuracy of a specific response from a learner, or does it seek to improve their approaches to such problems in the long term? Would allowing an incorrect response further the learner’s progress, or would allow for a future desirable difficulty?
These are just a few considerations about the purpose that teachers may face when deciding the nature of the feedback they provide. There is no single prescriptive formula you can use to decide exactly the type or timing of feedback. Instead, you will have to make a decision drawing from your knowledge of the evidence, your understanding of your students and the context, and your professional judgement.
Ultimately, however, it should communicate these three points to students, just like a car’s navigation system. This allows the learner to bring the information to the centre of their working memory, to understand their own understanding of the concept, and to consider the next steps to better encode the concept.