Reflecting on Our Practice: The Importance of Effective Feedback
By: Virginia Ressa
In 2007, Hattie and Timperly discovered from their meta-analysis of almost 8,000 studies that feedback is nearly seven times as effective in improving student learning as reducing class size. They found that feedback is, “The most powerful single modification that enhances achievement.”2
In my work in researching, planning and leading professional learning around Formative Instructional Practices (FIP), I have become a strong believer in the power of effective feedback. For the past few years, educators have been talking about the highly effective practices that John Hattie identified. He found that feedback is one of the most effective practices for accelerating student learning; but not just any feedback can have the profound impact that Hattie found — it needs to be effective feedback.1
So, what makes feedback effective? The general answer is that feedback is effective when it results in increased student learning. The more specific answer is that feedback is most effective when it is specific, timely, accurate and actionable. Missing any one of these attributes, feedback can be confusing and may not result in moving learning forward.
In my experience as a teacher, I can recall using phrases like “Good job!” or “Great work!” to praise students and encourage them to continue their success. I used to tell students to “Check your work again” or “Try harder next time” to help them focus more on their work and correct their errors. In hindsight, I’m not sure my feedback was all that helpful to students. I spent a great deal of time providing written feedback on my students’ work with very good intentions, but unfortunately, I’m now seeing that my feedback didn’t likely lead to increased student learning.
When providing learners with feedback on their successes, we need to be more specific than “Good job!” Students don’t always know what it is that they did well or how to do it again. It also doesn’t challenge students to move forward in their learning or to keep improving. Instead, success feedback should identify what a student has done correctly in relation to the learning target and point the student toward the next steps in his or her learning.
“Try harder” tells a student very little about what procedural mistake may have been made or what requirement a student may have missed. It is vague, doesn’t connect the learner back to the learning target and provides little direction for what action needs to be taken next. Think about how this example of effective feedback helps move learning forward:
“Read the prompt and rubric again. Your response partially addresses the prompt, but you are missing some important facts to back up your argument.”
The teacher has pointed the student back to the learning target via the rubric, identified the problem with the response and provided a suggestion that the student can act upon. You’re probably thinking that it is going to take more time to provide such specific feedback, and you’re right, it will. However, it is time well spent because the impact on student learning can be so high.1
Is Your Feedback Effective?
Pearson & Battelle for Kids. (2012). Foundations of Formative Instructional Practices Module 3: Analyzing evidence and providing feedback. Columbus, OH: Battelle for Kids.
Ultimately, feedback is only effective if it moves student learning forward. Take some time to reflect on your feedback practices and how students are using the feedback you provide. How could your feedback be more effective? Do you provide both success and intervention feedback that helps your students move forward in their learning?
Effective feedback is one of the core practices of FIP because of its high impact on student learning. To learn more about effective feedback, you can complete module 4 of the Foundations of FIP learning path. This is a great module for teacher-based teams to work through together.
The FIP Video Library has examples of Ohio teachers and students using feedback to improve learning. Watching how other teachers make feedback part of their daily practice and involve students in providing feedback to each other may give you some ideas to try in your classroom. Here is an example of effective feedback provided by the teacher and students, as well as some self-assessment feedback that work together to move the learning forward for everyone.
1Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London, England: Routledge.
2Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research.
Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.