Research Nuggets: Good Quality Feedback

Here is a small selection of research bites that I’ve found of interest recently. Feedback is something that can be a real challenge in today’s classroom. To start…

What does effective feedback look like?

Good feedback practice:

  1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards);
  2. facilitates the development of self‐assessment (reflection) in learning;
  3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning;
  4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning;
  5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self‐esteem;
  6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance;
  7. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching.

(Nicol, Macfarlane-Dick 2007)

Providing comments and thinking about tone:

“From his analysis he made two proposals: firstly, that three well‐thought‐out feedback comments per essay was the optimum if the expectation was that students would act on these comments; and secondly, and more importantly, these comments should indicate to the student how the reader (the teacher) experienced the essay as it was read (i.e. playing back to the students how the essay worked), rather than offer judgemental comments.”

“Such comments would help the student grasp the difference between his or her intentions (goals) and the effects of the writing.”

“Lunsford also advises that the comments should always be written in a non‐authoritative tone, and where possible they should offer corrective advice (both about the writing process as well as about content) instead of just information about strengths and weaknesses.”

(Lunsford, 1997)

The implications of using criteria:

“Statements of expected standards, curriculum objectives or learning outcomes are generally insufficient to convey the richness of meaning that is wrapped up in them.”


Exemplars are effective because they make explicit what is required, and they define a valid standard against which students can compare their work.”

(Orsmond et al., 2002)

The importance of timing and of self-regulated feedback:

“Most researchers and textbook writers are concerned that feedback to students might be delayed, not relevant or informative, that it might focus on low‐level learning goals or might be overwhelming in quantity or deficient in tone (i.e. too critical). For these researchers, the way forward is to ensure that feedback is provided in a timely manner (close to the act of learning production), that it focuses not just on strengths and weaknesses but also on offering corrective advice, that it directs students to higher order learning goals, and that it involves some praise alongside constructive criticism. While each of these issues is important, there is a need for a more focused definition of quality in relation to external feedback, a definition that links more closely to the idea of self‐regulation. Hence it is proposed here that:

  • Good quality external feedback is information that helps students troubleshoot their own performance and self‐correct: that is, it helps students take action to reduce the discrepancy between their intentions and the resulting effects.”

(Freeman & Lewis, 1998)

The perils of a ‘tick list’:

“If there are a large number of criteria, this may convey to the student a conception of the essay as a list of things to be done (ticked off) rather than as a holistic process (e.g. involving the production of a coherent argument supported by evidence). So, as well as relating feedback to criteria and goals, teachers should also be aware that the instruments they use to deliver feedback might adversely influence students’ conceptions of the expected goals.”

(Sadler, 1983)

To conclude:
The main conclusion I have come to from reading research about feedback, is that teachers can often be very tempted to control feedback activities and to not give room for pupils to reflect on their own work at the same time as looking at exemplars. Providing small targets like spellings and including certain words or techniques are small steps towards a wider goal, but generalised targets without the support of an exemplar (after the piece is complete, not before) are often not fruitful. Edwards and Daniels (2004) look to promote the power of ‘collective activity’ which helps pupils to reflect on their own work in comparison to the work of others and therefore become more proactive rather than reactive to feedback. If feedback is constantly a transmission process, are we really doing all we can to improve pupils’ understanding of “how to act to close the gap between current and good performance”? (Sadler 1989)

I hope you have read something of interest here.

Categories: Pedagogy, Quick Reads

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