How can I provide effective feedback?

The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student performance. Teachers who use formative assessment effectively are able to identify aspects of achievement and provide students with feedback about how to enhance the quality of their work.

Providing feedback to students is a key function of the teaching role. Effective feedback identifies, in relation to specific learning,

  • what students already know, understand and are able to do (Plus)
  • what they do not yet know, understand or are able to do (Minus), and
  • how they might improve – by suggesting specific strategies.

Each of these aspects of effective feedback is important.

  • The Plus is important because of its links with student motivation and self-esteem and the fact that it provides a focus on where students are.
  • The Minus is very important because this focuses on the gap between where students are now and where they need to be.
  • Information about how to improve tells students how to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be.

Before you can provide feedback which is effective in improving student performance there are some other ingredients that need to be in place.

Firstly, the assessment activity must relate to the knowledge, skills and understanding that you wanted the students to learn.  It must provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate those skills, knowledge and understanding. You might like to spend some time evaluating your assessment activities to see if they fulfil that role.

Secondly, students must know what learning you want them to demonstrate. They need to know the criteria (the success criteria) by which their work will be judged and what it was that you wanted them to learn (the learning intention).

Would you like to try this? Select a sample of student work, and ask these questions:

  • What was the learning intention for this piece of work?
  • What were the success criteria?

If the learning intention and success criteria are not explicit, can you see that you have a difficulty? Where will you focus your feedback? And how did the students know where to focus their attention and effort?

When providing feedback, ask these questions:

  • What, in terms of the success criteria, has the student done well?
  • In which areas does he/she still need to improve?
  • What advice will you offer to help him/her make that improvement? (Make your advice specific by providing examples or scaffolding.)

Some food for thought:

  • How effective is the feedback that you currently give your students?
  • What changes might you make?
  • What might prevent you from making those changes?
  • What might help you to make those changes?
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