Effective feedback

Hattie’s (2003) meta-analysis of the effect size (ES) of influences on student achievement places feedback at the top with an ES of 1.13. An ES of 0.6 or greater is usually considered to be ‘large’.

Timperley and Hattie (2007) further explored the influence of feedback. Noting that it is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, they point out that the impact of feedback can be positive or negative depending on the type of feedback, the timing and the way it is given.

Dinham (2008) adds that bad feedback can be worse than no feedback. If feedback is to be effective it needs to be frequent, constructive and instructive. It’s the quality of the feedback rather than its existence or absence that determines its power. (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2004)

Descriptive feedback is the most powerful tool for improving student learning. Feedback that focuses on what needs to be done can encourage all to believe that they can improve (Black, Harrison, lee, & Wiliam, 2003). In summary, if feedback to students is to be effective, it needs to:

  • relate specifically to a learning intention/goal and the associated success criteria

  • be timely, that is, immediate or soon after action

  • reduce the discrepancy between desired and current understanding by answering three major questions:

    • Where am I going? (What are the goals?) – “feed up”

    • How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?) – “feed back”

    • Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?) – “feed up”.

  • support students to monitor their own progress and achievements.

Teachers can reflect on the quality of their feedback with these questions:

  • Do you give clear, concise feedback related to the learning goals?

  • Do you identify what was done well, and what needs improvement?

  • Does your feedback include how students can improve?

  • Are your students expected to act on your feedback?

  • Do you provide the necessary time for students to act on the feedback?

  • Do you follow up on the feedback?

Types of feedback

It is the quality of the feedback that counts.

Students and parents need to be made aware of the different forms of feedback and that comments, oral feedback, etc. can be just as important as marks.

Chappuis (2012) describes three conditions that need to be in place, regardless of the form of feedback. Before offering feedback:

  • students need a clear vision of the intended learning

  • instructional activities need to align directly with the intended learning and students need to see that connection

  • assessments need to be set up so that students can interpret the results as indicators of what they have or have not yet learned.

Feedback can take many forms, some more effective than others, some equally as effective as others and some that overlap with each other.

Oral feedback is usually given during a lesson while written feedback tends to be given after a task.

Ideally, feedback should take place during the learning as students work on a task or it can be offered as soon as possible after the task, allowing time for improvements to be made.

Feedback can also be either evaluative, involving a value judgment, or descriptive, providing guidance for improvement.

Informal check-ins can be used to see how students are progressing and usually occur during the learning. Whereas formal feedback is often written or a combination of oral and written and usually occurs at the end of a task.

Peer feedback occurs when students offer each other advice and suggestions in relation to each other’s work. Self-feedback, that is, self-reflection is the ultimate goal of feedback for learning.

Students can be taught how to develop descriptive feedback based on learning goals and success criteria to monitor their own progress and to determine next steps.

For more detailed information about these types of feedback, read

Icon: link to PDF Types of feedback
Types of feedback (.pdf 177kB).

Practices that promote effective feedback

Knowing the students and their needs is paramount to effective feedback. Effective feedback leads to action.

Combine feedback and instruction

All the feedback in the world isn’t going to do much good if what they really need is instruction. Feedback can only build on something; it is of little use when there is no initial learning. Feedback is what happens second (Hattie & Temperley, 2007).

Focus on the learning intention and success criteria

Effective feedback directs attention to the intended learning and/or success criteria, pointing out strengths and offering specific information to guide improvement (Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, & Chappuis, 2004).

Intervene as soon as possible

Vince Lombardi (a famous American football coach): Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect. In classrooms it is important not to allow students to repeat a mistake or cement a misconception.

Ensure feedback requires the student to do the thinking

Feedback needs to be acted upon by the student. Overfeedbacking doesn’t deepen the learning if students don’t need to think or do anything for themselves.

Allow time to enact feedback

Ultimately, the only effective feedback is that which is acted upon, so that feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor. To demonstrate the importance of feedback, allocate time for feedback to be acted on.

For more detailed information about these practices that promote effective feedback, read

Icon: link to PDF Practices that promote effective feedback
Practices that promote effective feedback (.pdf 230kB).

Tips and tactics

The most important word in any teacher’s vocabulary is ‘yet’.

When a student says: I can’t do it, the teacher needs to respond with: ‘Yet.’

In summary when implementing feedback:

  • where possible, try to give descriptive feedback

  • focus on feedback that encourages students to think through their learning

  • avoid closed questions unless as a scaffold towards posing more open ended ones

  • keep feedback focused on what is important for the learner – product, process, self-regulation

  • restrict comments to key strengths and areas for improvement that will make the most difference

  • divide the time between collective, group, pair and individual feedback. Analyse error patterns to direct instruction for the class, groups and individuals

  • ensure students understand the feedback and give students time and opportunity to respond to feedback

  • ensure opportunities for peer and self-feedback/reflection

  • identify something that was done well, something that needs improvement and provide specific suggestions for how to improve

  • provide a range of improvement prompts to guide student learning (reminder prompts, scaffolded prompts, example prompts)

  • ensure the feedback provided was useful in helping the student progress in his/her learning.

For further information about tips and strategies, read

Icon: link to PDF Tips and tactics
Tips and tactics (.pdf 248kB).