Feedback for learning

Feedback can help students recognise what they know, don't know or misunderstand.

  • Useful feedback clarifies what good performance is (i.e., in relation to criteria and standards of achievement)
  • Meaningful criteria are most useful for students. Ask students to brainstorm in groups what evidence might demonstrate meeting (or exceeding) each criterion. Collate student suggestions with your own expectations and then ask students to apply those criteria to a relevant piece of work (such as a presentation) as an exercise.
  • Self assessment and reflection allows students to identify the standards or criteria that apply to their work and judge how their work relates to those standards (Boud and Falchikov 2000). This encourages students to be responsible in their learning rather than dependant on the teacher.
  • Timely feedback increases the likelihood that feedback will be meaningful for students. Technology gives us the opportunity to release feedback and a few days later, release grades (via Grade Centre in Blackboard) to encourage students to read and consider feedback without being distracted by their grade.
  • Providing feedback from multiple sources, including self-assessment, peer-assessment, and teaching staff, increases the frequency in which feedback is received.

Why

Useful feedback does more than justify why students receive a particular grade on an assessment, it identifies good work and makes recommendations for improvement. The most useful kind of feedback for students provides constructive guidance on how they could improve their work or understanding, is timely, allows students to reflect on their work and progress, and is timed so that students have an opportunity to respond to that feedback within the unit of study.

Examples

Useful feedback might include:

  • Providing opportunities to act on the feedback (to close the gap between current and desired performance)
  • Repeated practice (by both teachers and students) in marking, discussing and comparing judgements about their own and others work over time, enables a deep understanding of criteria and standards (Sadler, 2003,2009a,2009b)
  • Providing specific comments about errors, specific suggestions for improvement and encouragement to students to focus their attention thoughtfully on the task, rather than simply being concerned with getting the right answer
  • Requiring students to summarise the feedback and demonstrate using it in a future assignment
  • Criteria-based feedback using online feedback tools allows students to see how they went on each criterion so they know what to focus on improving.
  • Self assessment of explicit criteria is associated with improved work in the future (McDonald and Boud, 2003).

Ways to provide (and receive) feedback include:

  • Comments - handwritten or typed
  • Model answers or specimen solutions
  • Automated feedback in Blackboard quizzes
  • Generic feedback on student work as a whole in print, put on Blackboard, email to all students, or via podcast
  • Peer feedback can be useful for students, such as peer assessment (SPARK)
  • Frequent problems or needed explanations specific to a particular assignment can be published on Blackboard, handed out or discussed via podcast
  • Face to face feedback to a whole group
  • Ask students to make one choice: At the conclusion of a section of a lecture, pose a question with several possible alternatives. Students can vote on these and explain why they made their choice. In this way both you and your students gain feedback on their learning.
  • Ask students to write down key concepts before and at the end of the lecture or vote on multiple choice questions and discuss this changes or gaps.