Chapter 8

Reflective and formative

If you study but don’t reflect you’ll be lost.
If you reflect but don’t study you’ll get into trouble.
Confucius’ Analects, Book 2 part 15


This chapter is about the crucial developmental role that reflective and formative assessment and feedback play in the learning journey. Although not all reflective assessment is also formative and vice versa, I make the case that the two aspects (reflective and formative) are two sides of the same medal and should be designed as such.

About the case studies

Reflective and formative assessment

In the printed/ebook version, there are three case-studies about various types of reflective, formative assessment which support a more inclusive learning assessment design:

1. ’Focus on metacognitive processes with Assessment as Learning’ by Alessia Bevilacqua and Claudio Girelli (Italy) which discusses the outcomes of a research project where a teacher education course used an assessment-as-learning regime.

2. ’Building on your strengths: bringing it all together with an eportfolio’ by Laura Costelloe (Ireland) which makes a case for using portfolio assessment to better support developmental and inclusive learning.

Watch the author discuss implications for practice of using eportoflios for more inclusive learning.

3. ’Team charters for more inclusive team assessments’ by Joanne L. Hall and Asha Rao (Australia) which discusses a tricky aspect of formative assessment: group assessment. It discusses a practical way of making such formative team assessment fairer.

Watch the authors discuss implications for practice of using team charters for more inclusive team assessment design.

Reflective and formative feedback

There are two case studies:

1. In the printed/ebook edition, a case study entitled ‘Beyond telling—A clarion call for technology-mediated feedback conversations in online higher education’ by Ameena L. Payne (Australia) which discusses screencast feedback as a more inclusive approach to providing tutorial-style feedback, even at scale, to support more reflective feedback.

2. Here below, read a case study by Bonnie Amelia Dean (Australia) entitled ‘Personalised, connected feedback’ about making written feedback comments (more) personal and linked with other learning. How can you write feedback that helps students make connection to their future working lives? Read about the approach including a written feedback example.

Watch the author discuss the practice implications of employing more personalised feedback to support inclusive learning design.

Personalised, connected feedback

By Bonnie Amelia Dean

Perhaps it’s safe to say that as a teacher in Higher Education, you would have heard at some point the phrase that ‘feedback is one the most powerful influences for student learning’ (Hattie and Timperley 2007). Over the years, the role of feedback has shifted as emerging inclusive practices have sought to engage students as more active players in the feedback process (Winstone and Boud 2020). Within the developing conceptual landscape of feedback, I want to draw your attention to two standout dimensions of feedback aligned with the principles of inclusive education. First, feedback comprises an affective dimension and can have an adverse effect on student learning when perceived as negative or critical of students themselves as people. Therefore, the relational aspects of feedback are crucial, feedback needs to be personalised and students need to be invited into a dialogue (Middleton et al 2020). Second, students often perceive feedback information to have limited use (Winstone and Carless 2019). To this end, feedback must be relevant, designed for uptake, but also where possible, designed to connect to and reflect the types of authentic feedback practices of the discipline, profession or workplace (Dawson et al 2020).   

Feedback at formative assessment stage is key in supporting students achieve their learning goals. It should invite reflection (looking back) but also point to specific areas for improvement (looking forward).

Building on the dimensions of relationality and relevancy, when it comes to providing students with short oral or written feedback, one powerful practice I use is the visual metaphor of ‘zooming in’ and ‘zooming out’ as shown in the image below.

A man and a woman are standing in the crow's nest, the structure in the upper part of the main mast of a ship used as a lookout point. One is looking out through a telescope, while the other is looking closely, with a magnifying glass to a geographical/world globe.

Image: From a vantage point, during the learning journey, teachers can provide feedback comments which zoom in (on the learner) and zoom out (on the wider world)

Zooming in allows me to focus on the learner and support them as a bourgeoning professional. To do so, I use their name, speak directly and specifically to their output and offer encouragement and areas for improvement. Zooming out enables me to connect the feedback information to other assessments, another courses in the degree, or skills and knowledge of the profession or workplace. This zooming in/ zooming out practice is one step in a larger dialogic process. It is useful for those who are marking within large cohorts and are short on time, and can be adapted given the anonymity of markers. Zooming in on the learner and zooming out to the powerful interconnections within and beyond the feedback instance can build relational, relevant and inclusive feedback practice.

Example feedback, to be adapted according to the level of the submission:

               “Hi [Name],                      

Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about your ideas on [subject of assignment]… 

What I particularly liked was how you [demonstrated a key skill/ knowledge]… in section [X] of the assessment. 

This skill [name], is really important in professional practice, particularly when [provide personal, relevant example]… 

A couple of things I wanted to draw your attention to are [highlight area(s) and provide useful information for improvement]… 

In your next [assignment/ course], focus on these areas by [explain]… 

When you graduate, you will find that these sorts of [activities/ ways of thinking/ specific skills] will be useful when you [name professional activity]. I encourage you to reflect on how you might use these skills in your future practice. 

Well done, [Name].

Watch the author discuss the practice implications of employing more personalised feedback to support inclusive learning design.


Dawson, P., Carless, D. and Pui Wah Lee, P. (2020). Authentic feedback: supporting learners to engage in disciplinary feedback practices. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/02602938.2020.1769022

Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research. 2007;77(1):81-112. doi:10.3102/003465430298487

Middleton, T., Shafi, A.A., Millican, R. and Templeton, S. (2020) Developing effective assessment feedback: academic buoyancy and the relational dimensions of feedback. Teaching in Higher Education. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2020.1777397

Winstone, N.E. and Boud, D. (2020). The needs to disentangle assessment and feedback in higher education. Studies in Higher Education. doi:10.1080/03075079.2020.1779687

Winstone, N.E and Carless, D. (2019). Designing Effective Feedback Processes in Higher Education: A Learning-Focused Approach. London: Routledge.

Inclusivity note

Feedback has a strong emotional impact on students, that’s why its ‘tone’, even in writing, should always be supportive. We should also use clear, jargon-free language and check that students have fully understood the feedback message.

If we offer developmental comments such as ‘this piece lacks critical analysis’, we should also provide, in the same feedback comments, suggestions as to how the student might do this, including references or links to useful resources.

One of the most effective, inclusive ways to ensure students have understood and engage with feedback is asking them to respond to it. However, to dignify students, we should provide feedback comments and accept that students may decide not to take on board some of it, for valid reasons. This mirrors professional practice, for instance in the case of articles submissions where the authors are not obligated to follow each piece of feedback.

Watch the author discuss the practice implications of employing more personalised feedback to support inclusive learning design.

In this case study, by zooming in (on the student) and zooming out (on the wider academic and professional context) we help students make sense of feedback and action it. This approach makes teacher feedback more relevant and easier to apply. It very much agrees with the ‘N’ value-root nurturing, as we support a more holistic approach and with the root-value ‘I’, integrative, because we help students make connections with different parts of their learning and their future lives.