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Feedback is a gift

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Sure enough, a grade is a form of feedback, but it is neither inclusive nor sustainable. The gift of feedback for learning is not a number or letter, but rather it is information, opinions and comments on student learning and outputs. Feedback has a strong emotional impact on students: it should be a gift for students, not about students as persons, but about their learning.

To be inclusive, the feedback process needs to include, involve the learners rather being perceived as the sole responsibility of the teacher and it needs to be given in the modality that suits the student.

To be sustainable, feedback starts with the learners themselves: self-feedback promotes self-regulation and feedback literacy. Can learners tell themselves how they think their outputs fare in relation to the criteria? This can be very simple for young learners, perhaps using a traffic light system or coloured stickers. Older learners could use a ‘mapping tool’: the success criteria list, with space for met/not yet and further students’ notes, so the students can annotate their own submission. Additionally, can peers provide an additional perspective (peer feedback)? If so, teacher feedback becomes the third opinion, more akin to a moderation of previous comments.

Timing matters

Immediate, formative feedback is particularly supportive when students are on-task, applying new knowledge and need to know whether they are going in the right direction. Formative stages require more detailed formative feedback, while shorter comments work well for summative feedback. Teachers need to plan formative feedback points and should be very explicit about what response they expect from students – what should they do with the information?

Delayed feedback provides some ‘distance’ from the learning event and the output, so it becomes more reflective. However, delayed must not turn into ‘late’. Feedback should still be provided in advance of the next steps in the learning journey, making the links clear. However, just like sometimes you receive a gift which is not immediately useful, but is useful later on, the usefulness of some feedback becomes clear as time passes.

The wrapping

How should feedback be provided? The default, traditional mode is written comments, and there are advantages to this as they can be easily shared and are easy to refer back to. However, technology makes it possible to provide highly personalised feedback by using audio or video. The teacher speaks in a natural, supportive tone directly to the students – it’s like a mini-tutorial. These forms of feedback lend themselves to a dialogic approach to feedback: students respond to the feedback and this starts a feedback conversation, a virtuous spiral to improve students’ learning.

Hybrid forms can be very effective: a short written feedback comment highlighting main strengths and areas for improvement accompanied by an audio-visual file with further details, where teachers comment on (moderate) the self and peer assessment against the criteria and provide further points for reflection.

Feedback needs to be sustainable for teachers as well: in large classes, it may be better to provide group feedback in a video, highlighting common trends, and then add a short individualised comment for each student.

To be truly inclusive, we need to check with students what feedback mode suits them best. Then we will give them a truly useful gift, beautifully wrapped.

To find out more about the why/what/when/who/how of feedback, watch the 5’ video below about: What best practice in feedback can I embed in e-learning?