Sunday, July 8, 2012


I've been thinking a lot about feedback lately, probably because I'm currently teaching a course on assessment. And then my ASCD Education Update arrived and it was all about giving students quality feedback. I took it as a sign that I should address this crucial topic here. I've talked about assessment a few times, and grading too, but this post is specific to the verbal and written feedback provided to students.

We all fall victim to the "nice job" trap. We want students to feel good about their performance, so we use "good work" and "nice job" written on the top of assignments and as students are working. But these niceties do not provide students with any feedback that tells them anything valuable about their academic performance.

Effective feedback is clearly related to the intended goals and learning targets of the lesson/unit. It also helps students break down complex tasks to see where they need more support and work. Effective feedback is also self-referenced - it does not relate a student's performance to other students' performances but rather to the student's ability and past performance; though it does not relate to others' performance, it should be related to the standards that are being worked on in that unit. Because of these previous characteristics, it is clear that effective feedback in specific, individualized, focused on key errors, and descriptive.

Above all, feedback is provided in a timely manner. This is probably the hardest to manage, particularly for those teaching middle and high school that might have 150 papers or projects to grade at a time.

Hattie and Timperley (2007) state in their model of effective feedback that feedback should answer three questions: Where am I going (the goals)? [feed up] How am I going? [feed back] Where to next? [feed forward]. Teachers help students through feedback when they provide students with answers to these questions: clarifying goals related to learning targets, strategies to work on tasks towards the targets, providing accurate information about the current state of performance relating to standards and suggestions for improved performance on specific tasks, and enhancing challenges for students and increasing self-regulation of the learning process - helping student set their own academic goals and tracking their own effort towards those goals.

Perhaps over the summer you can develop some routines for providing regular feedback to students. It can happen through written feedback on assignments, regularly scheduled conferences with students, and spontaneously as students work. How will you make the time to provide students with effective feedback?

We're off for a couple weeks, but will return in August. In the meantime, you might want to review some of last summer's posts on professional organizations by content areas and why to join. And if you're searching for a job, review the recent job search post, which has links to older posts (or just search under the label "job search" for all kinds of helpful information). If, in the hiatus, you come up with a burning question about teaching, please post here so it can be addressed in coming weeks! Happy summer vacation!

* References:
Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), pp. 81-112.
McMillan, J. H. (2011). Classroom assessment: Principles and practices for effective standards-based instruction (5th Ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Rapp, K. (2012). Quality feedback: What is it and how to give it. Education Update, 54(7), pp. 1, 6.