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Research School Network: Feedback: Making it worth the Time Mark Miller looks at what the EEF’s feedback guidance has to say about efficient feedback

Feedback: Making it worth the Time

Mark Miller looks at what the EEF’s feedback guidance has to say about efficient feedback

by Bradford Research School
on the

Feedback is an important element in supporting pupil progress. It helps pupils to know where they are. As Professor Becky Francis states in the latest EEF guidance report, Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning, it is a crucial component of high-quality teaching and can be seen in classrooms across all phases and subjects.’ But there is no denying that feedback has a time cost. With this in mind, what can we learn from the guidance report about the best ways to use that most valuable resource when it comes to feedback: time?

Lay the foundations

Much of the work that we can do to make feedback more efficient happens long before we even get to the stage of delivering feedback:

The first task of the teacher, before feedback is delivered, is to provide effective instruction. Feedback alone is unlikely to provide pupils with a full understanding of the knowledge, skills, and concepts required and so initial teaching is crucial. Without it, feedback may be left with too much work to do.

We may not always think like this, seeing the connection between teacher instruction and the effectiveness of our feedback. This blog would be many thousands of words long if we wrote about everything that would make for effective teacher instruction, but thankfully there is an extensive list provided in the guidance:

  • build on pupils’ prior knowledge and experience;
  • avoid overloading pupils’ working memory by breaking down complex material into smaller steps;
  • encourage the retention of learning by using repetition, practice, and retrieval of critical knowledge and skills;
  • deliver a carefully-sequenced curriculum which teaches essential concepts, knowledge, skills, and principles;
  • use powerful analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, comparisons, and demonstrations;
  • are aware of common misconceptions and prepare strategies to counter them;
  • plan effective lessons, making good use of modelling, explanations, and scaffolds to support learning
  • adapt teaching in a responsive way to support struggling and excelling learners while maintaining high expectations for all (Early Career Framework); and 
  • provide pupils with tools and strategies to plan, monitor, and evaluate their learning

So, if we want our feedback to move pupils on, we need to be ensuring these elements are in place. And in fact, many of these rely on feedback too: our scaffolds are designed from what we know about our pupils; our analogies are chosen based on prior knowledge; we understand the pupils in our classrooms who struggle with working memory demands.

I’ve taught enough lessons to know that even with the best will in the world, these things go wrong. For example, an explanation doesn’t stick because the wrong analogy is used. And teachers need to be confident enough to stop marking if the fifth pupil has exactly the same misconception and it’s a better use of time to plan a clearer explanation for the next lesson.

Plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback

If we accept that there is a time commitment to feedback, we have to make that time spent worthwhile. So making sure that the conditions are right to receive the feedback is important. And we should also ensure that we have a plan for what pupils will do after receiving their feedback. This idea forms Recommendation 3 of the guidance report: Plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback’.

There are a number of factors that may influence a pupil’s response to feedback:

  • Pupil motivation and desire for feedback – do pupils want to receive the feedback?
  • Self-confidence and self-concept – how do they respond to feedback that challenges their view of themselves?
  • Trust in the teacher – do they value the source of the feedback?
  • Working memory – can they process feedback or is there too much?

Much of the mitigation for this comes through the culture in the classroom. The guidance recommends discussing the purpose of feedback, and teachers should continually reinforce both why feedback is given in general, and why this specific feedback is important. We should also model the use of feedback and how to respond. Finding examples in classes of pupils who have improved and sharing them with the group. Providing clear, concise, and focused feedback is important to avoid overloading’ pupils. We also need to ensure pupils understand the feedback given, which should take into account the language and content used, but also teacher handwriting! (This was highlighted in the practice review*.)

It is only when that feedback is used by the pupil, that the learning gap, and therefore the feedback loop, is closed.

Opportunity cost – what else could you be doing instead?

Before the guidance report gets to the recommendations, they draw attention to opportunity cost.

What other tasks may a teacher need to sacrifice to provide feedback? Is the cost to other aspects of teaching, such as reducing planning time, worth the time spent on feedback? How can we provide teachers with the time required to provide effective feedback whilst also delivering all other aspects of effective practice?

There are so many things that we can do instead of marking/​giving feedback. This means that if our feedback isn’t effective, we miss out on all the benefits of what we could have been doing. While we can see major benefits to feedback, we can’t take it for granted that the feedback going on in your school is better than an alternative. Might the two hours you spent marking books be less effective that annotating your copy of Macbeth? Would it have been better spent meeting with a TA? 

Or the alternative might still be feedback, but not traditional written marking:

  • A lesson where the teacher models a response to address common misconceptions identified from a task.
  • Small-group teaching.
  • Whole class feedback: See this blog from Sophie Law, ELE at Huntington Research School.

The nature of the evidence means it is difficult to say exactly what we should be doing. But approaching your feedback policy with the goal of making the best use of everyone’s time is not a bad strategy.

*Elliott, V., Randhawa, A., Ingram, J., Nelson-Addy, L., Griffin, C. and Baird, J.A. (2020). Feedback: Practice Review. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

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