Effective Feedback Strategies for Teachers
In this blog, Kyle Graham, Assistant Headteacher for Teaching and Learning, Golborne High School, Wigan, examines how to deliver effective teacher feedback strategies in the classroom to improve pupil performance and attainment.
The importance of feedback has grown significantly in education in recent years as further research has been brought to the fore. This has allowed us to bank on best bets whilst also removing time-consuming practice for either the same or negative impact. There have been a series of wonderful research papers and books published on the matter that have helped to inform this post and have inspired some excellent feedback policies across the nation.
Why is feedback important?
According to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), feedback is shown to have “high impact for a very low cost based on extensive evidence” (EEF, 2021). This means that it’s easy to view it as a top choice when it comes to improving student outcomes. The EEF (2021) defines feedback as being “information given to the learner about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals or outcomes”.
Michael Chiles, in his highly regarded book, ‘The Feedback Pendulum’, says “it could be argued that it is impossible not to give feedback” and that “the primary purpose of feedback has evolved into an act which attempts to address the understanding gap based on how someone has performed relative to the anticipated goals”.
Essentially, as teachers, we give feedback regularly and often, whether we realise it or not. So, if it’s shown to be a high-impact strategy, and we do it regularly, it’s incredibly important that we get it right. This is especially important as over one third of feedback interventions “do more harm than good”, especially when it’s more to do with the “ability” of the student (Watson and Busch, 2021).
Principles of feedback
Before going into any further detail, it’s important to recognise that there are some key components which help ensure that feedback is as effective as possible. There are many different variations of this, but I’ll focus on three:
Principle 1 - feedback is timely. This is absolutely critical because, if we get this wrong, the impact of feedback can lessen significantly. The more quickly we provide feedback, the better the chance it has of landing. If we leave it too long, knowledge decay will occur, which makes it harder for students to engage with what we are asking them to do.
Principle 2 – feedback is precise. We have to ensure that we are giving students subject- and task-specific feedback that allows them to improve on a granular level. If we use generic terms such as “add more of your own knowledge”, or “expand this paragraph”, then we aren’t really helping to point them in the right direction for improvement.
Principle 3 - feedback feeds forward. Feedback should allow students to improve. This means that it should be actionable, as in it gives them the opportunity to re-draft, rehearse, revisit and respond, re-learn/re-test or research and record (Sherrington, 2017).
The purpose of feedback is to allow students to improve. This means that we have to think carefully about how we ensure it achieves this. It also means planning how students will receive and use feedback (EEF, 2021).
Feedback strategies for teachers
As feedback has become an increasing focus in recent years, so too has there been a boom in the different strategies that are utilised in education. I’ll go through several of them here, with some thoughts on the pros and cons.
This is an important one to start with, as it’s the strategy that’s grown in popularity the most in the last decade or so. The principle is fairly simple: instead of giving feedback to individual learners, you give feedback to the whole class. When done well, this can reduce workload without having any negative benefit on the learners. Instead of writing feedback in every student's book (and often repeating the same 3-4 pieces of feedback), you can plan for activities that fill in the gaps in their knowledge.
- Step 1 - look at a selection of books from the class (varying in ability)
- Step 2 - plan an activity that addresses the gaps/misconceptions identified. The activity will vary depending on the gaps, but could involve re-teaching knowledge if a major misconception has occurred, or modelling working out/writing on a board or visualiser
- Step 3 - allow students to improve their work
Jade Pearce argues that we should use whole-class feedback “to show common errors and misconceptions and discuss examples of excellent work” (Pearce, 2022), and I think this is a sensible summary. Using examples of excellent student work is a critical part of excellent feedback, so that students can see what good work looks like. Using a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like) is a staple of any whole-class feedback that I do. Sometimes I use a student example, sometimes my own, and sometimes I write one live with the class.
What to try
Next time students have completed a piece of work that you would like to look at, select 5-10 examples from the class. Write out any SPAG errors, misconceptions, and ideas as you go along, and then use this to create the feedback activity you will do in the next lesson. If students have misunderstood a critical concept, you’ll have to re-teach it and make sure that you teach it in a different way than previously. Maybe try writing a model answer to dissect with the class, or demonstrating live how to work out a complicated maths question while describing the thought process behind it.
Live feedback could be for individuals, groups, or, again, the whole class. When circulating the room, go hunting to try and see who needs support (Lemov, 2015), and provide them with it. This can vary from correcting SPAG mistakes, redirecting the focus of a student’s working out or writing, or simply addressing a piece of knowledge that’s incorrect.
This has the potential to be incredibly impactful as you are correcting/improving work as it’s formed. However, remember to stick to the principles mentioned earlier, as often, verbal feedback can get lost in the maelstrom of a busy lesson.
This is a very reactive strategy, but it does mean that if things aren’t going in the direction you want, you can stop the class and address any issues that have arisen. You can also use a visualiser to exemplify excellent work from the class. This could, and arguably should, happen in every lesson. After every activity, you want to ensure that all students understand the content and have got the answers correct.
As a history teacher, I tend to do the following when it comes to knowledge building:
a) Introduce the task
b) Model how to answer the first comprehension question
c) Get students to answer the remaining questions
d) Go back through the answers with the whole class
The last part is absolutely critical to ensuring that everyone has the same standard of answer. Get students to use a pen of a different colour to write down the correct answers in full as you go through them. Skilled questioning can be used here to pick apart any misconceptions that may exist, and you can choose some examples from around the room that you may have seen while circulating. This involves some self-feedback here, but with a lot of scaffolding from the teacher to ensure that the right corrections are being made.
What to try
In your next lesson, circulate around the room and actively look for both excellent answers and students who need additional help and support. Make a note of any answers you can use to show good practice and speak quietly to the students who need help. Maybe ask them a few guiding questions. If you have a visualiser, get the good practice answers under it and ask students to explain why that example is a strong answer.
Peer and self-feedback
These two strategies are probably used less now than they used to be, but they can still serve a purpose if done correctly. The biggest considerations to take into account when choosing to implement peer or self-feedback are that students are not the experts in the field in which they are providing said feedback.
Chiles (2021) describes how it can end up with “generic unhelpful comments that didn’t allow for meaningful improvement”.
As such, we have to make sure that when we use these strategies, we are incredibly explicit with our instructions and/or our success criteria. One of the most effective ways I’ve seen this utilised is when students self- or peer check work against success criteria, before submitting a piece of work for teachers to check. This requires incredibly precise and clear criteria to be shared with students from the start, and asking students to self- or peer check their work against them.
You could even get students to highlight areas of their work that they believe achieve the success criteria for maximum reflection. This feedback is then acted upon by the student, ensuring that by the time the work gets to the teacher, it’s already been improved. This leaves the expert teacher in a position to provide further feedback on the best work that the student could produce.
Your classroom activity could take this order:
- Share the task and go through the success criteria with the class
- >Students attempt the activity with the success criteria on the board
- Time is given at the end to review/peer review the success criteria against the work attempted. Feedback can then be written, verbal, or simply a reflection
- Student improves the work based upon feedback from step 3
- Work is submitted to teacher
Chiles is very clear that we have to ensure that students understand the purpose of peer feedback, that we model the questions and feedback that students provide, that our success criteria are explicit, and that students are given the opportunity to practise peer-to-peer feedback whenever they can (Chiles, 2021). This emphasises the fact that even with a lot of preparation, students will likely only give effective feedback under the right conditions, and after training and practice in how to do it.
What to try
When you’re next getting students to complete a piece of independent work, try building very explicit success criteria. Build in 5-10 additional minutes for the task and allow students to review their work using the criteria, before improving it based upon their reflections. You may want to add some modelling here if it’s the first time you’re doing this, to show them how to check to see if they have met different elements of the criteria. The goal is to repeat this quite a few times until self-checking becomes habitual.
Browse resources on The National College platform for further support on gathering and using feedback effectively to inform provision and enhance pupil outcomes.
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Chiles, M., ‘The Feedback Pendulum’, 2021
EEF, ‘Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’, 2021
EEF, ‘Teaching and Learning Toolkit’, 2023
Lemov, D., ‘Hunting versus Fishing’, 2023
Pearce, J., ‘What Every Teacher Needs to Know’, 2022
Sherrington, T., ‘#FiveWays of Giving Effective Feedback as Actions, 2017’
Watson, E., Busch, B., ‘The Science of Learning: 99 Studies That Every Teacher Needs to Know’, 2021