Are model answers the best type of feedback?


Are model answers the best type of feedback?

“Learning without feedback is like archery practice in the dark”. This statement by researcher Patricia Cross at the University of California says it all: feedback is essential for students to make the most out of their learning experience and to close the gap between current and desired learning.

There are many different types of feedback that teachers can provide to their students, a common one being model answers. But are they as useful as some may believe? More importantly, are there ways we can make them more effective?

What is a Model Answer?

A model answer is an ideal response to a question. It is an example of what would receive full marks, and helps teachers demonstrate to students how to include the key elements of a topic into an answer. Model answers are typically used so that students can compare their own work to them and assess their strengths and weaknesses. This means that teachers don’t have to provide individual feedback.

This is where the flaw of model answers lies: although some students may be able to understand what they could have done better, there may still be many students who will need some further explanation.

Of course, model answers can definitely be helpful – when coupled with personal feedback. They can act as a useful reference point for students when they are writing essays, demonstrating the ideal layout, format and content and can help students with their structure. However, specific comments tailored to a student’s work will guide them to make the necessary changes to succeed in the future.

Is It the Best Type of Feedback?

The two types of feedback we have discussed are individual and model. Both have their own strengths, and both have some drawbacks. Feedback is a helpful guide that teachers can provide students with, to boost their academic performance.

Students learn through their mistakes. If they don’t do well on an assessment, the feedback will indicate where they have gone wrong, pushing them in the right direction to develop their skills and help them to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Evidence suggests that feedback can improve learning, when it gives each student specific guidance on their strengths and weaknesses. Very often, there is more than one way to write an essay that will get 100%. You don’t want students to lose focus of their own opinions and individuality by confining them to one specific type of response. Comparing their work to something seemingly perfect can reduce a student’s interest in the subject and create a restrictive learning environment.  

Research shows that the best approach to feedback may actually be a hybrid one. Student responses were recorded after they received both types of feedback and they indicated a preference for personal, over model feedback. However, students may find it easier to revise from model answers. If students are struggling when it comes to exam season, model feedback can be a particularly useful revision resource. This further indicates that combining the strengths of both types of feedback is an effective way to make the most of a student’s learning process.

Giving Effective Feedback

The nature of model answers is pretty straightforward – but what does good personal feedback look like? We think it needs these three elements to be effective:

  1. Be specific – It is important to give details when providing feedback to students. This helps to avoid any misunderstandings. Also clear suggestions on what to improve are more likely to lead to changes that catapult students to academic success.
  2. Have high expectations – This is where model feedback comes in. Students must be aware of the gold standard so that they have a target to aim for. Increasing expectations but not putting too much pressure on students can be tricky, but if you find a good balance, you’ll be sure to see the benefits.
  3. Be timely – Marking papers and giving individual feedback is a long process. However, research suggests that immediate feedback in the classroom is very beneficial. Try and make the model answer available as soon as possible so students can have something to discuss before they receive their personal feedback.

For more tips on giving better feedback, here are some blogs you might find interesting:

Final thought

Feedback plays a key role in making significant improvements in a student’s academic progress. Using a combination of personal and model feedback can be especially useful as it will allow students to make both specific and general changes to enhance the quality of their work.

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