All teachers give feedback to their students in many colours, shapes, and forms. Sometimes it’s oral, sometimes written, sometimes to the whole class, sometimes just to a specific student, sometimes it’s very short and powerful, sometimes very extensive and nuanced. We provide feedback because we believe it’s important for learning. Done right, feedback supports the learning process, resolves misunderstandings, and narrows the gap between where the learner is and where the learner needs to get/be. Done poorly, feedback can hinder the learning process and demotivate the learner.
The Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF) published a package of materials for teachers and school principals to help them optimise the positive effects of feedback (Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning). Needless to say, all recommendations and guidelines are evidence-informed and documented!
The guidance report makes six recommendations:
- Lay the foundations for effective feedback
- Deliver appropriately timed feedback that focuses on moving learning forward
- Plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback
- Carefully consider how to use purposeful, and time-efficient, written feedback
- Carefully consider how to use purposeful verbal feedback
- Design a school feedback policy that prioritises and exemplifies the principles of effective feedback
which are divided into three categories:
The main component of the package is a ‘guidance’ report; a guide to the use of feedback. Three principles form the basis of the report, namely, the teacher: (1) must lay a good foundation for effective feedback; (2) provides well-timed feedback that emphasises advancing learning; and (3) plans how students will receive and use feedback by developing a strategy that ensures students will respond to and act on the feedback.
With regard to Principle 1, the EEF states that the teacher should deliver high-quality lessons that make good use of formative assessment. The better the lesson, the less the need for feedback. Formative assessment allows the teacher to determine where feedback will be focused (what do I want to achieve with my feedback?) and where feedback should be given (what are the gaps?). On Principle 2, the EEF states that there is no one right answer for the when question. It’s up to the expert teacher to judge whether immediate or delayed feedback is best, taking into account the characteristics of the task(s), the particular student in question and how far along the entire class is. They warn that feedback on the learner’s personal characteristics, whether general or vague, is less effective if not counterproductive. With regard to Principle 3, the EEF states that careful thought should be given to how students receive the feedback. Motivation, self-confidence and trust in the teacher can influence the effectiveness. It is up to the teacher to encourage students to welcome feedback, and to check whether and how students are using it. It’s crucial that students do something with the feedback. If they don’t do anything with it, you would have been better off spending your time doing something else!
When it comes to the third principle, Paul often shows the following graph. Feedback is not for getting the teacher to work, but rather for the student and feedback only has effect when the student does something with it.
Two approaches flow from the three principles, how to use written (Principle 4) versus/with oral/verbal feedback (Principle 5). Written feedback is often at the core of teaching, be it written comments, marks, scores, or a combination of these, but it’s much more than assessment. Written feedback can also be very time-consuming for the teacher. The report therefore provides suggestions for reducing the teacher’s time commitment. Oral/verbal feedback, on the other hand, is a lot more time-efficient than written feedback, but should not be seen as an ‘easy’ alternative to written feedback. Because it is spontaneous, it is all the more important, as stated in Principle 3, that the teacher thinks carefully about what she/he is going to do. The method of transmission plays an important role here! However, the report ‘warns’ that, rather than focusing on the method by which feedback is delivered, schools and teachers should ensure that all feedback fulfils the principles of effective feedback as outlined in Recommendations 1 to 3
The report ends with a sixth point, namely the design of a school-wide policy that follows the principles of good feedback. Implementation should be a step-by-step process and not an ‘event’ where continuous professionalization of everyone is a necessity. The basis for that policy must lie in adhering to the first three principles and not limiting your thinking to things like how often, how much, or in what way. The implementation process looks like this:
Finally, the report gives an idea of what an effective feedback policy looks like which it calls the alphabet (A-F) method:
Avoid the over-specification of the wrong things.
Be clear on your purpose.
Costs associated with feedback practices need to be carefully considered.
Demonstrate helpful worked examples of effective feedback practices.
Expectation management—of pupils, parents, and teachers—matters.
Focus on the foundations of learning.
Feedback is a system, not an isolated event, built on a solid foundation, supported by techniques and implemented in school-wide educational policy.
Educational Endowment Foundation (2021). Teacher feedback to improve pupil learning: Guidance report. Available via https://d2tic4wvo1iusb.cloudfront.net/eef-guidance-reports/feedback/Teacher_Feedback_to_Improve_Pupil_Learning.pdf