Giving your students good feedback is essential to helping them develop their learning in the classroom. Although research agrees that feedback is highly influential for student learning, evidence suggests that what matters most is the type of feedback you provide, and the way that you deliver it.
What the research says
A review of the existing research on feedback looked at how effective it is for enhancing student learning. It suggests that the main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between a student’s understanding of a concept or idea and their performance.
They concluded that for this to happen and be effective, the feedback you provide must answer three questions:
- Where am I going? – This helps students identify key goals.
- How am I going? – This gives students an indication of progress.
- Where to next? – This helps students understand what actions they need to take to make progress
Researchers also identified four different types of feedback:
- Feedback about the task
This is where the feedback is focused on whether a task is done successfully. This is the most common type of feedback. It can be effective when used in the right context, which is when students have misunderstood a concept, rather than when they have not learned the concept yet.
Although this type of feedback can be effective, it might not be as effective as others. Feedback about a specific task is not generalisable, and might encourage students to focus on getting the current task right instead of encouraging them to learn strategies that can be used in other tasks in the future.
- Feedback about the process
This type of feedback focuses on the decisions, strategies and techniques students used during a task. It is about whether students have actually understood and implemented a concept or idea, and can be highly effective for enhancing deeper learning.
Research suggests that combining feedback about the process students used with goal setting can help them develop a good “task strategy”. This will help students perform better not only on current tasks, but also on future ones. This makes it highly effective for improving student learning.
- Feedback about self-regulation
Feedback about self-regulation addresses the way that students monitor, direct and regulate their behaviour when they are learning. This includes behaviours like a student’s ability to create internal feedback or their willingness to engage with feedback and apply it to future tasks.
Research suggests that effective learners are able to create internal feedback. This means that they are constantly monitoring their performance and adjusting their learning strategies as they go. Less effective learners depend much more on external feedback from teachers, and do not tend to apply feedback to future learning, which makes this type of feedback useful to make the other types more impactful.
- Feedback about the person
This type of feedback is personal, and often leads to labels like “good girl” or “you are smart”. It contains very little task-related evaluation. Research suggests that personal feedback does not encourage student engagement, goal setting, or understanding about the task, and is generally not effective at enhancing student learning.
How can you apply this in your classroom?
So, some types of feedback are more effective than others. Generally, it is best to avoid feedback about the person, and although feedback about the task can be effective, the best types of feedback to give your students may well be about the process they used and their self-regulation.
Why? Well, not only are they applicable to current tasks a student is working on, making their impact immediate, they also help students approach future tasks more efficiently.
But it isn’t just about what you give feedback on – it’s also about how you deliver it. Here are 4 tips to give better feedback to your students:
- Get your students to pay attention to feedback
If your students are only half listening when you are giving them feedback, they will not remember it, let alone be able to use it to improve their performance. Make sure your students are paying full attention to your feedback so they can apply it to future learning.
- Simplify your feedback
Research suggests that less complex feedback may lead to students performing better in subsequent tasks. Simplify your feedback to a few key points so that your students can understand and remember them and apply them next time.
- Consider giving students written feedback instead of grades
Although grades can increase students’ involvement in the classroom, they may not have as much positive impact on subsequent student performance as we would like. Instead, try giving your students written feedback. Research suggests that giving students written feedback such as short comments instead of grades significantly improved their academic performances.
- Make sure that your feedback is clear
Feedback should prompt students to relate their poor performance to a specific cause. If you don’t give your students feedback that points out where they went wrong, not only will they not correct their mistakes next time, but it may even affect their self-esteem and confidence.
Giving your students feedback on tasks is vital to improving their academic performance and enhancing their learning. However, what matters even more is the type of feedback you provide, and how you deliver it.
Make it mainly about the process and self-regulation, which are more generalisable, to help your students improve their performance on current and future tasks. By prioritising feedback that is concise, clear, actionable way, we give them the best chance of improving their learning and performance.