Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Make a Meal of Student Feedback

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Make a Meal of Student Feedback

Article excerpt

Admit it: most of us don't know what effective feedback means, but a stripped-back approach can help to avoid common pitfalls

Feedback works. All the available evidence says so. So we should all be doing as much of it as possible, right? Except the unfortunate truth is that we don't really know what we mean by effective feedback, nor are we very clear about how it works best. So let's get some clarity.

The best definition and summary of feedback is from John Hattie and Helen Timperley (2007), entitled The Power of Feedback. Here, all the available evidence is piled together (196 studies) and distilled into three practical questions that feedback must answer for the student: "where am I going?"; "how am I going?" and "where to next?".

Feedback is much more than "solely about correctness", the study says. Instead, it is about closing the gap between what the pupil understands and what you want them to understand.

This isn't just about the task - it should also consider the student's effort and motivation, and how well they are thinking or working together in collaboration.

The evidence also provides further simple messages: temper your praise, rip up your rewards and focus on helping students to build an intrinsic motivation to improve their learning. It is a sensible template for all teachers.

In his paper Keeping learning on track: formative assessment and the regulation of learning, Dylan Wiliam adds another element to which we should pay attention: peer and self-feedback. Peer feedback can often be derided as a poor proxy for teacher feedback. Of course, if students are given minimal training then they will give bad feedback, but if we invest time in training them up then the learning gains could be immense - after all, a teacher can never give each individual student the requisite feedback all the time.

Don't make things worse

We also need to know what makes for bad practice. Wiliam says that in "two out of every five carefully controlled scientific studies, giving people feedback on their performance made their performance worse than if they were given no feedback on their performance at all".

The danger appears to be when we encourage comparison with others. Grading or scoring students' work can actually distract from useful diagnostic feedback. …

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