The feedback students want vs the feedback students need

Learning is complicated and messy. And nothing helps guide the path better than high quality feedback.

However, we know that students often don’t know what’s best for their learning, often favouring what feels comfortable or fun over what they truly need. Is that the case for feedback? And if the feedback students need doesn’t match the feedback they want, how do we make sure they still apply it?

Read on to learn more about:

  • The types of feedback you can give students
  • How students perceive feedback
  • How to build your students’ understanding of feedback
  • The difference between feedback and feedforward

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What are the different types of feedback?

Feedback plays a crucial role in guiding students' learning and development. It's more than just pointing out right or wrong; it's about helping students understand how they can improve, become more independent and gain confidence in their abilities.

 

The four main types of student feedback are:

  • Task feedback – This focuses on the task at hand and provides information about the accuracy of your students' work, pointing out what they did right or wrong.
  • Process feedback – This provides insights into how your students can improve their approach to a task. It's about the “how” rather than the “what”.
  • Self-regulation feedback – This aims to help your students become more independent learners. It guides them towards assessing their own work and identifying areas for improvement.
  • Self/Praise feedback – This focuses on boosting your students' confidence and motivation. It acknowledges their effort or performance.

How do students perceive feedback?

So, is there a “best” type of feedback out of these, and does it match students’ favourite? A recent study has provided some interesting insights into how students perceive feedback. The researchers asked students to describe the purpose of feedback and their preferences for its contents. They also examined the actual feedback these students received on a course assignment.

The findings indicate that most students see the purpose of feedback as providing strategies for improvement – in other words, process feedback. This aligns with previous research and underscores the importance students place on feedback that helps them understand how they can improve their work.

But interestingly, while students recognised the importance of process feedback, their preferred form of feedback was task-focused (i.e. what they got right or wrong). This discrepancy suggests a gap between students’ theoretical understanding of the purpose of feedback and what they actually desire in practice. What they want may not align with what they truly need.

In terms of self-regulation feedback, which addresses how students monitor, direct and regulate their learning, such as through self-assessments, goal-setting and regulation actions, there also seems to be a lack of awareness or understanding for students. Despite receiving some self-regulatory feedback on assignments, students did not identify this as a key aspect. This could indicate a need for more support in helping students understand how to self-assess and self-regulate their learning.

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How can you help your students bridge this knowledge gap?

So what can be done to help students improve their understanding of what good feedback looks like and how best to action it?

  1. Boost feedback literacy

Enhancing your students' feedback literacy (i.e., their abilities to make sense of information and use it to improve their work or learning strategies) may require active intervention. This could involve offering opportunities for your students to understand the purpose and value of their feedback or practise self-assessment and reflection.

  1. Reduce ambiguity

Eliminating ambiguity, doubt and confusion in the feedback you give students can help bridge their feedback knowledge gap. You can do this by using plain language, avoiding passive voice and adopting a conversational tone. Including a clear call to action also ensures your students know exactly what steps to take next.

Taking it a step further with feedforward

John Hattie's research on feedback underscores the importance of “feedforward” – future-oriented feedback that helps students improve their later performance. He proposes that teachers should not only explain why something is good but also why students should adopt certain strategies. This helps students understand the thinking behind the feedback, making it more meaningful and impactful. In essence, feedforward complements feedback by providing a roadmap for future action.

It helps students understand their current performance and provides specific, actionable steps to improve for the future. By focusing on Feedforward, you can shift the emphasis from what has already occurred to what is yet to come, empowering your students to take control of their learning journey and better utilise the feedback given to them.

 

Final thoughts

Giving feedback is both an art and a science. This is because, as mentioned at the start, learning is messy and complicated. Each student may potentially respond to the same feedback differently. Understanding the discrepancies between what students want to hear and what will help them the best can help us navigate this feedback maze.

Effective feedback is not just about pointing out errors – it's about nurturing growth, fostering self-regulation and paving the way for continuous improvement. To help further encourage your students’ development and motivation, book our Mastery Mindset student workshop today.

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