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Research School Network: Effective Teacher feedback Greenshaw Research School’s ELE, Steph Keenan, reviews 3 of the recommendations in the EEF’s guidance report on teacher feedback

Effective Teacher feedback

Greenshaw Research School’s ELE, Steph Keenan, reviews 3 of the recommendations in the EEF’s guidance report on teacher feedback

by Greenshaw Research School
on the

Recommendations 1 – 3

Teacher feedback to improve pupil learning Guidance report

The publication of the 2021 EEF Report Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’ is timely, as Becky Francis – CEO of the EEF – reminds us in the foreword: feedback “ is a crucial component of high-quality teaching, which has never been more important as schools look to recover their pupils’ learning in the wake of the pandemic.”

This guidance report aims to refocus teachers and leaders on the principles of effective feedback rather than recommend (let alone encourage schools to enforce) specific methods.

This avoids the see saw’, as Francis calls it, between whether verbal or written feedback is better, and by exemplifying principles leaves the choice of method to classroom teachers.

Historically for many teachers, particularly those on the receiving end of triple colour marking policies, feedback has sometimes meant high levels of written marking, creating an unsustainable workload.

In recent years, partly thanks to the prior work of the EEF on feedback and publications like A Marked Improvement’
(Elliott et al, 2016) leading even Ofsted (2016) to ask whether marking was meaningful, manageable and motivating’, we seem to have moved away from excessive accountability marking’.

Many leaders have taken on board the message that visible marking is not visible learning and thankfully liberated teachers from the shackles of marking policies which dictatorially prescribed style and frequency for the benefit of people other than the students themselves.

Classroom teachers are therefore likely to welcome the explicit focus on the need for a thoughtfully designed and implemented feedback policy’ (Recommendation 6), along with Francis’ recognition in the foreword that feedback is not free’, and teacher time is a resource we must spend wisely. This reminder about opportunity cost recognises that part of leadership is in some cases to stop teachers doing good things to allow them to do better things, one of which is effective feedback.

Equally, policies are only useful if inferences drawn from evidence do not simply turn principles into rubric, encourage tick box descriptors or other evidence of feedback being done’. It seems wise to emphasise principles and practice before policy (Recommendation 6).

We know high quality feedback is associated with improving student attainment and can be transformative, with the potential to provide students with eight additional months’ progress (EEF Toolkit) but it’s complicated: the evidence base is mixed. In one meta analysis, 38% of feedback experiments had a negative effect on learners (Kluger and DeNisi, 1996).

This guidance report recognises that while feedback is one of the most powerful influences on student learning, it is also one of the most variable, with the research a tangled web’ (Shute, 2007) from which to extrapolate findings. As Francis notes, not all feedback has positive effects. Done badly, feedback can even harm progress.”

Recommendations 1 – 3

Image 1

The first principle, lay the foundations for effective feedback’, reminded me of Harry Fletcher Wood’s Responsive Teaching (2018) approach which laid out a Curriculum – Goal – Model – Worthwhile Task – Feedback loop.

Wiliam states in his guest foreword that the starting point for effective feedback is eliciting the right evidence” and clearly, without a well planned and sequenced curriculum, clear learning intentions, effective modelling and meaningful tasks, we will not be able to elicit evidence of student learning or progress, assess misconceptions or provide students with meaningful feedback.

A helpful bullet point summary on p.13 outlines what this might look like:

In delivering effective teaching, teachers:
• 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
• 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);20 and
• provide pupils with tools and strategies to plan,
monitor, and evaluate their learning.21

Image 3

The second principle – appropriately timed feedback – is a tricky one as it is almost entirely context-dependent and is ultimately down to teacher judgement. The report does offer concrete, subject-specific examples linked to research, however, which teachers can refer to for examples of how to time feedback in different contexts (p.20).

The focus on whether and how the feedback is moving learning forward might be the more useful element for teachers to consider here, perhaps reframed as a question to self’ before providing feedback.

If we keep providing the same feedback, however, we need to think again. William reminds us that the word feedback’ can lead us to think of feedback as a backward-looking process — in Douglas Reeve’s memorable words, the post-mortem rather than the medical.” Some schools use the phrase feed-forward’.

Either way, feedback must focus on what needs to happen next.

Image retry 2
Image 5

The third principle reflects two core messages I took away from Wiliam’s previous work:

1. Feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor. 

2. The aim of feedback is not to change the work, but to change the student.

He reminds us here that the only thing that matters with feedback is what learners do with it” and that the most important decisions taken in classrooms are not taken by teachers but rather by learners.”

This inevitably involves a complex set of social and emotional factors, including motivation, attitude to learning, relationship with the teacher and school, student self-efficacy and expectancy, metacognition and cognitive load.

These are explored more in the next three recommendations, which will be covered in Part 2 of this blog.

If you are interested in the role of peer assessment, however, it is worth being aware that this guidance report is focused only on feedback from teachers to pupils, defined as information given by a teacher to pupil(s) about their performance that aims to improve learning,’ but other types of feedback may be featured in future EEF reports.

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