Effective Feedback

On a learning journey how does one know they’re on the road to their goal?

A learning process is not necessary linear, but divergent and evolving with the learner. So what is it that closes the gap? What makes feedback effective? As part of my teaching inquiry I have been contemplating what effective feedback is. I would like to share some of my musings at this stage.

What is feedback?

Feedback has a times been seen as a component of formative assessment, something that focuses on the details of content and performance providing a formal or informal procedure from which to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment. Askew adopts a broad definition of feedback which “includes all dialogue to support learning both formal and informal situations”. Absolum observes feedback to be one of the key strategies that promote further learning which is intended to “focus attention on aspects of features of the learning context, to increase the salience of those features, to reduce the gap”. A recurring theme when looking at effective feedback seems to be ‘close the gap’.

What is ‘the gap’?

Feedback is evidence about what students are learning, why they are learning it and how they are going. The gap lies between what they are learning to do and achieving or mastering the learning goal. How they are going towards that learning goal is what assists us as educators to provide helpful feedback. Thus feedback is ‘just for me’ information that is communicated ‘just in time’ to be as effective as possible. It can be shared in various forms such as prompts, explanations or reinforcements.

Levels of feedback

According to Hattie and Masters, there are four levels of feedback.

1) Task level – feedback about how well a task is being accomplished or performed

2) Process level – feedback is about the processes underlying the tasks

3) Self-regulation – feedback is about the way students monitor, direct and regulate actions with confidence in their learning

4) Self – feedback is praise unrelated to task or learning

Effective feedback

Is there a time and place for each level of feedback or is there a specific level that we can be aiming to use?  From a constructivist perspective, different levels of feedback could be relevant for different stages in learning. For example, when a student is learning new material task-specific feedback could be of assistance. In comparison, when a student is has a high degree of proficiency self-regulated feedback may be more relevant. I wonder how autonomous this process could be.The degree of self-motivation and ownership that is possible in self-regulated feedback makes me wonder if predominantly using this type of feedback assists teachers to make learning more student-directed. Perhaps they’re not mutually exclusive, perhaps its a matter of a time, place and knowing your students. 

Reciprocal learning feedback

Askew et al introduce the idea that the teaching model being used drastically changes the type of feedback that is it possible to share. In a receptive-transmission model feedback is gifted from the expert to the learner to evaluate and help them improve. At the other end of the continuum a co-constructivist model provides expanded dialogue connecting participants reciprocally to “illuminate learning for all”.

So feedback then works both ways; it is simply another example of reciprocal teaching and learning in the classroom. Recently I modelled various ways of teaching writing then asked the students in my class how they preferred to learn about writing. At times writing had been fully integrated with our topic learning, at other times I had taught a writing group rotation system and my third example had been whole class modeling then I roamed and took groups when needed. I asked students what worked for them and why and was astounded at the degree of depth in which they discussed and debated how writing should be run and why. We realised different students preferred different styles and then came up with a new and improved model to trial and evaluate. Needless to say, I am endeavouring to co-construct this type of feedback on a regular basis and am interested in the possibilities it provides.

So after exploring feedback, where is its place? In the recent MOE Assessment Position paper it outlines the need for assessment to be used formatively. “Assessment not used formatively is not worth doing.” Perhaps this could be extended to say all assessment needs to be used formatively with the learner in a co-constructive way. This could inspire effective feedback that illuminates learning for all.

If you have read this far into my pedagogical musings around  feedback then …hmm let’s see, what type of feedback works for you as a lifelong learner? I would greatly appreciate any thoughts and ideas other educators have about effective feedback.



John Hattie and Debra Masters – Visible Learning Plus http://www.visiblelearningplus.com/index.php/the-team

Michael Absolum – Clarity in the Classroom http://www.mightyape.co.nz/search/0/Michael+Absolum/?gclid=CIeD29X3xasCFUw0QgodAQ7h0A

Ministry of Education – Assessment Position Paper


Sue Askew et al – Feedback for Learning http://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=sFrHGz2NcU8C&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=feedback+%22primary+education%22&ots=nIl62MZo-8&sig=BPcgzDFcoKsa6rkbzubPncwflog#v=onepage&q=feedback%20%22primary%20education%22&f=false