Research School Network: Improving Feedback by Improving Subject Knowledge Investing in Subject Knowledge has Multiple Benefits


Improving Feedback by Improving Subject Knowledge

Investing in Subject Knowledge has Multiple Benefits

by Bradford Research School
on the

When we think of what makes effective feedback, we can often concentrate on the methods of feedback, but the EEF Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning guidance report places more weight on focusing on the principles, rather than the methods:

  • Laying the foundations
  • Giving well-timed and focused feedback
  • Planning for pupils receiving and using feedback

For these principles to have any impact, we need to invest in developing subject knowledge.

Developing subject knowledge to lay effective foundations

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 might not see instruction as such an important part of feedback, but predictable problems need to be addressed even before we need to give feedback.

We can counter misconceptions, use analogies, illustrations, examples, explanations, comparisons, and demonstrations to build a rich conceptual understanding and scaffold learning. The better we get the initial teaching, the more effective our feedback will be.

Developing subject knowledge is necessary to get this part right, but it also helps when we get to the feedback. Armed with our own rich subject knowledge, we are better equipped to spot and address the new challenges to address with our feedback.

There are a range of tools that can support subject specialists. For example, the RADAAR approach in Science. Read more here.

RADAAR Planning Template 1200 849 80 s

Or the REACT framework in mathematics, illustrated below, and with numerous examples here.


Asking the right questions

When we give feedback, it is after we have asked for a student response. This could be a quick answer to a question or a longer written response. In any case, the design of this stimulus is particularly important.

Developing teacher subject knowledge means we can ask better questions, because we know where the likely misconceptions are, and how we can draw these out if they are lurking. As well as general subject knowledge, we should spend time examining what good questions look like in our subjects. Do we ask multiple choice hinge questions for example, or do we need to gather this information in other ways in our subject?

Without the knowledge to design and respond to what we learn from these questions, our feedback is far less impactful.


How feedback is received is important. Teacher credibility matters. According to the guidance:

If pupils do not trust their teacher, they may be unlikely to use the feedback provided. If they do not think their teacher is acting in good faith, they may believe that suggestions for improvement are unfair criticisms and reject them. Indeed, 9% of primary and 19% of secondary teachers surveyed in the review of practice suggested that a lack of respect for the source of feedback stops pupils from using it. However, if they do trust their teacher, and believe that feedback is being provided because the teacher has high expectations of them and wants them to improve, the feedback is more likely to be effective.

We know that feedback has less impact if students do not act upon it, or reject the message. By investing in our subject knowledge, we send the signal that our feedback will be beneficial for the students because a) we can identify the best next steps and b) we have the tools to support students to achieve them. Every time we indicate that we know our subject well, this perception comes across.

So, next time you think about improving the quality of the feedback in your classroom, start with subject knowledge.

Mark Miller is Director of Bradford Research School

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