Feedback is a pivotal part of the teaching process. Whether it be verbal or written, we are immersed in the act of giving and receiving some form of feedback every day and in every lesson. In each academic year, students will receive feedback based on evidence interpreted by teachers from hundreds of assignments, assessments, practice exams, questioning and classroom activities.
Feedback is everywhere and can play a pivotal role in learning about ourselves as learners. However, even though we are surrounded by feedback as teachers and learners, research indicates that there is a significant difference between giving and receiving feedback and it then being acted upon. It is the acting upon feedback that truly makes a difference.
When we give students feedback, the aim is to shine a light on their performance and provide guidance on whether they need to re-tune or restructure the information that has been stored in their memory. This is often based on the learning intentions and any misconceptions that may have already been stored that may need to be recoded. Hattie and Timperley’s definition of the purpose of feedback provides a useful starting point:
”To reduce discrepancies between current understandings/ performance and a desired goal.” (2009)
Schools invest a large proportion of time in giving feedback, but the reality is that the input doesn’t necessarily equate to improvements in students’ learning. The act of giving feedback to students is the easy part but unless students act upon the feedback received, it ends up being a waste of time. All too often the quantity of feedback is confused with the quality.
Take a moment to consider the feedback that you have provided recently to students. How much of that feedback was heard? Did it make the sound that you intended it to make?
Teachers provide students with feedback every lesson but unless we create the conditions for students to want to actively receive that feedback and then act upon it, it will not have the intended positive impact on learning. Therefore, the power of feedback is determined by the power of the follow-up. In Valerie Shute’s report on formative feedback (2007), she identifies that ”good feedback can significantly improve learning processes and outcomes, if delivered correctly”. The emphasis on correct delivery is important because giving feedback is easy but creating the conditions for the recipient to want to receive the feedback and then act upon it is more challenging.
For feedback to have a positive impact on learning, the focus has to be on this follow-up stage. School leaders and teachers need to work together to create the right conditions where students want to receive, seek out and use the feedback that they are given.
Chiles, Michael, The Feedback Pendulum: A manifesto for enhancing feedback in education, John Catt Educational, 2021
Hattie, John& Timperley, Helen, The Power of Feedback, Review of Educational Research, Vol 77, Issue 1, pp. 81-112, 2007
Shute, V.J., Focus on formative feedback. Educational Testing Service. ETS, Princeton, NJ, 2007