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Research School Network: Why feedback matters The evidence confirms what many teachers know: feedback matters. But how do we use it most effectively?

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Why feedback matters

The evidence confirms what many teachers know: feedback matters. But how do we use it most effectively?

by Shotton Hall Research School
on the

Feedback is one of the most effective tools in a teacher’s armoury. With potential benefits of up to 8 months’ additional progress, it is currently the highest ranked strand in the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit.

However, what constitutes good feedback? And how can we ensure that feedback improves the student, not just an individual piece of work?

Although feedback can take many forms, in this post I explain two changes I am making to my own marking after reading the evidence.

Errors versus Mistakes


The first step is to distinguish between mistakes’ and errors’, with the evidence suggesting that they should be marked differently.

A mistake occurs when a student gets something wrong, but they usually get it right e.g. they forget to use a capital letter on one occasion. If a student makes a mistake, it should simply be identified as incorrect. No answer or hints should be given as the student should be able to correct it themselves.

An error is something that a student consistently gets wrong and suggests a deeper misunderstanding e.g. frequently misusing a possessive apostrophe. Here, it might be helpful to write a question which directs a student to the underlying misconception. For example, what punctuation does possession need?’. Rather than merely correcting the fault, the student reflects on the reasons behind it. At other times, re-teaching might be the most effective and efficient approach.

A Targeted Response


A second change concerns the way students respond to feedback. In their review of the evidence on written feedback, the EFF concluded that students must respond to feedback in a meaningful way. The aim should be to improve the student, not just the piece of work.

For a start, this demands sufficient time. Rather than squeezing it into an unrelated lesson, I now dedicate entire lessons to feedback and give students at least twenty minutes to improve their work. I have also started providing models that demonstrate the necessary improvements.

In addition, students need specific direction when improving their work. At my school, we provide What Went Well’s (WWWs) and Even Better If’s (EBIs). Taking this further, students could record their feedback along with the type of task (e.g. descriptive writing). Before starting a similar task in future, they write down the WWW and EBI from last time; the WWW is something to repeat and the EBI serves as an actionable target.

Responding to feedback is taken as seriously as the original task and provides concrete guidance that students internalise and put into practice next time.

Quality over Quantity


This may sound good in theory, but do teachers have the time to consistently provide high quality feedback? Fortunately, the research suggests that we should mark less (in terms of the number of pieces) but better, by providing students with clear targets that they can then act upon. Music to the ears of an English teacher!

The EEF is currently conducting a systematic review of the evidence on feedback. This will inform a new Guidance Report on Feedback, due to be published later in 2021.

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