I think one of the biggest changes I have seen in teaching over the last 14 years has been to feedback. We have moved through flick and tick to AfL, dialogue marking came (and already start to go), from commenting on effort to setting every pupil specific targets, from correcting all spelling mistakes to highlighting an error and letting the pupils correct it. Change has been quite rapid and left a bit of a mess.
I have been re-reading the paper from Hattie and Timperley “The Power of Feedback” which was published in 2007 but only hit my radar in 2016 after reading Make Every Lesson Count (which tells us something about how far Education Research has to go to reach the classroom). This paper considers the findings of researchers into the impact of feedback and draws some fascinating conclusions.
They start by asserting that “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning, but this impact can be either positive or negative” (my emphasis). I’m not sure that the idea of feedback being negative is something that is widely considered; but this report makes clear – feedback is something that needs careful consideration. One potential pitfall of feedback is that the response from the pupi might not be what we desire. They might ignore the feedback, feel they don’t need to improve further or come to rely on feedback from an outside source.
The first consideration we need to make is – what is the feedback for? Hattie and Timperley suggest three goals of feedback:
- Where am I going? – what are the goals?
- How am I going? – what progress am I making?
- Where to next? – what is my next step?
They then propose four levels of feedback. These are:
- Feedback on the task (FT) – is this correct/incorrect?
- Feedback on process (FP) – use of language/structure/producing the piece.
- Feedback on self-regulation (FR) – how can they correct their own work?
- Feedback on self (FS) – comments on the attributes shown by the individual.
These different types of feedback need to be deployed in different ways and with different time scales. Their findings suggest the following to me.
- FT should be given immediately to prevent misconceptions arising. During questioning, focus on whether the answer is correct or not – not on whether it, or they, are “good”.
- Feedback should be immediate for simple tasks where errors might creep in (practice makes permanent after all) but delayed for complex tasks so that pupils have the time to think through the process themselves.
- Feedback should be avoided if their work shows a complete lack of understanding. You are better off reteaching.
- Avoid giving constant FP. I have encouraged pupils to ask for feedback before declaring their work “finished” but this has lead to pupils asking for constant reassurance. Now I ask pupils to proof read their work and look for 3 corrections/improvements before I look at it. This should encourage FR.
- Be aware of the difference between pupils looking for instrumental help (hints and advice) and those looking for executive help (the answers) – the latter are avoiding work or are unable to do the work and need reteaching.
- Avoid FS. Comments on “effort” and ability are not helpful and may be harmful. Comment on what is good/poor about the work – not the person producing it.
- For feedback to be successful, pupils need to be motivated to act on it. A study by Earley and Knapp (1988) found that those who had watched high performing students complete a task were more committed to completing tasks well themselves.
- Pupils need to have very clear success criteria for a task and to be given feedback based on this criteria. Make feedback very specific to that task and that objective.
- The ultimate aim is increased self-regulation. In exams (and for that matter in life) we need to be able to review work ourselves. However I think it is worth keeping in mind that self-assessment as it is often practiced is hugely ineffective as pupils are often ill equipped to assess their own work. This again highlights the needs for very specific criteria to be shared.
A final point to make is that feedback need not be written and should not be confused with marking. I have found that feedback has been most effective face to face when there is the opportunity to look over work together and discuss how it can be improved.
Feedback has come along way over the years but I fear it has left behind it a trail of ineffective and inefficient practice. We need to sit down and unpick what we want to achieve from feedback and how best to do so.