Research School Network: Teacher Feedback to Improve Learning Juliet Stafford focuses on how we can best plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback.


Teacher Feedback to Improve Learning

Juliet Stafford focuses on how we can best plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback.

by Staffordshire Research School
on the

I am sure that we can all remember a time when we worked really hard on a task or project, felt incredibly proud of what we had achieved, only to feel demotivated and demoralised when we received the feedback on our work. It is not necessarily the case that the feedback was not helpful or valid or was designed to be critical in anyway, more perhaps that it was not framed correctly or that it was us ourselves who were not set up to receive the feedback in the right way. How can we guard against this in our classrooms? How can we ensure that our feedback moves learning forward but, at the same time, builds the confidence of our learners? As we saw through Recommendation 1 and 2, it is important to precede feedback with high quality instruction and formative assessment so assessment is appropriately timed, informed and supported. However, it is also imperative that we, as teachers, plan for how pupils will receive and use the feedback once the assessment is complete. It is this which lies at the heart of Recommendation 3.

Let’s deal first with how pupils receive the feedback. Only if pupils receive the feedback in the right way, will they be able to make the most effective use of it to move their learning forward. For me, the most important factor is to establish a culture in our classrooms where feedback is welcomed by the pupils. At Etone, this comes from setting high expectations for all our learners within a can do culture” where teachers and pupils alike view feedback as the way to perform even better than before. Redo, redrafting and fix it are all the norm and are embedded in our day to day practice. Pupils do not view the assessment process as complete once the work is handed in but know and expect that there will be a review of their work and a planned opportunity to respond to teacher comments. We also ensure that we provide a positive comment first in relation to the subject, task or self-regulation for assessment tasks (alongside targets and step up tasks) and link feedback to rewards and praise to recognise both the efforts and successes of our pupils. We have tied this in with our whole school value of self-belief and align it with our employability skill of resilience, encouraging pupils to have confidence to achieve their goals and to try to view any mistakes as learning opportunities.

Principles feedback

Recommendation 3 suggests four possible factors that can influence how pupils receive feedback. The first of these is pupil motivation and a desire for feedback. As I have hinted to above, our pupils receive feedback well because it is embedded within our curriculum implementation as well as being framed within a positive culture where the emphasis is on always striving to do your best. However, what also left an impression on me from the EEF guidance report was how different pupils may be motivated by different types of feedback. Reflecting on this personally as a teacher, I feel that I do adapt my feedback instinctively but it served as a helpful reminder to me to consider how as teachers, we might vary the type of feedback according to the nature of the leaner.

Recommendation 3
also suggests that self-confidence and self-concept plays a role in how pupils use feedback. For example, it describes a very capable pupil who does not see that they need to improve and may be distracted and disheartened by feedback. Making it the norm, framing feedback in a positive way and instilling an approach where we learn from our mistakes can, in my experience, guard against this. The report also discusses how it is also essential that pupils trust in the teacher and that pupils view the feedback as part of high expectations where the teacher only wants for them to do their best. Care should also be taken not to overload the working memory when providing feedback and careful planning of how to deliver feedback and how pupils should respond to it can address this. Sometimes less is indeed more, as the report suggests, and again this may vary according to the pupil – we should focus on the things that are really going to make a difference and ensure that our feedback is clear, concise and easily understood. For me, the more we can develop a common language of assessment in the classroom, through the use of shared mark schemes and success criteria, the more accessible and therefore, effective our feedback will be. We must make sure that pupils can not only read what we have written but that they can also understand its meaning and what to do next.

Feedback 5

We all appreciate that feedback will not magically improve pupil skills or boost grades without those learners acting on feedback” and therefore, it is crucial that feedback is planned and that dedicated time is provided for it. The amount of time provided will depend given the nature of the task – for example, feedback on a single exam question will need less time that feedback on a full mock examination. To be effective, feedback should be structured and scaffolded carefully to ensure that pupils can access it and have success in responding to it. Planning of feedback lessons is key. Feedback lessons at Etone, for example, may start with a retrieval starter based around misconceptions identified through the assessment. The lesson then may model aspects of a mark scheme using a visualiser with an opportunity for pupils to apply this mark scheme to an example answer – identifying strengths and suggesting improvements. Finally, once the feedback has been explained and modelled, pupils will be able to respond to their own fix it time codes based on individual targets to improve their assessed piece of work. They may also, where relevant, be asked to reflect on what they can carry forward to the next piece of assessed work. And …….. of course ….. all of this completed in green pen!!

Recommendation 3 also suggests some other approaches for how we might prepare pupils to receive feedback. As with everything, the guidance makes clear that explaining the purpose of why pupils are receiving and responding to feedback is likely to improve their engagement with the process. Modelling feedback is also a useful strategy – if a peer expresses a willingness to know how their work can be improved, then other pupils are more like to receive and use the feedback in the same way. The report also suggests that whole class discussions which focus on how one learner has used feedback to improve their work could help to build the confidence of other learners. Let’s not forget either to celebrate the use of feedback – as I mentioned earlier, rewards are linked to assessment at Etone but that also includes a recognition of when fix it time tasks have been completed effectively to acknowledge the importance of feedback response.


Dylan Wiliam has explained that effective feedback should be used as a windscreen rather than a rear view mirror” – looking forwards and being a recipe for future action. Therefore, a commonly recurring theme of this blog has been that pupils need the time to use and respond to teacher feedback. Wiliam goes on to explain feedback as part of a feedback loop – after identifying a learning gap, feedback is then offered to close this gap. It is only when a pupil uses the feedback, that the learning gap is successfully closed. The report acknowledges that many schools have in place mechanisms to allow such response but teachers report insufficient time. One way to overcome this is to consider planning feedback lessons into long term plans after assessments to ensure that it does not take away from curriculum time – treat it as a form of revision and interleaving to give it the time it requires.

There are some great takeaways in the EEF guidance including examples of time effective post-feedback activities, a couple of which I share here, that can be easily incorporated into our day to day practice. One way that I particularly liked was to make feedback into detective work. For example, the report describes how you could place a code in the margin to indicate that an error has been made and ask pupils to try find and correct them, with further scaffolding as to the nature of the error if required. This strategy puts the emphasis on the learner to engage with the feedback as a task and will require careful planning to ensure that it is matched to pupil ability. At Etone, we use questions or tasks for pupils to respond to as part of fix it time as well as opportunities for redo if required. These tangible tasks make it easier for pupils to understand what is required rather than a generic target that, whilst it tells them what they need to do to improve next time, there is no clear way of pupils evidencing having met this. The report recommends a similar strategy – 3 questions posed at the end of a piece of work that pupils respond to – different for different students – which we base around coded questions to reduce teacher workload.

Detective work

Now I want to you move away from the classroom for a minute and consider the Cluedo board ….. was it Colonel Mustard in the Library with the lead piping? This may seem a little random but please bear with me for a moment. One of the analogies used in Recommendation 3 of the report which is really simple yet powerful is how formative feedback can be likened to a good murder” – so now the Cluedo reference hopefully makes sense!! Effective feedback depends on three things (i) motive – the student needs the feedback (ii) opportunity (the student has time to act on it) and means (the student is able and willing to use it. Not only is this a powerful analogy – motive, opportunity and means – but a simple and very sound principle for us all to use to inform our feedback (and a handy link to the assessment detectives idea mentioned earlier!)

As we all know, assessment has many purposes. Not only does it provide feedback to our pupils on how to improve, it is also a powerful tool for us to reflect on our curriculum planning and implementation. When we mark an assessed piece of work, there will be common misconceptions and misunderstandings that often will lead us to reflect on how we could have taught that topic differently to prevent these from occurring. Assessment is therefore also used to improve the quality of our instruction and review our schemes of learning and lessons, ready for next time. At Etone, we make effective use of question level analysis based on internal examinations to diagnose any areas that we (i) need to revist (ii) need to rethink for next time and this is formalised through regular review of schemes of learning in the light of assessment data.

To conclude, Recommendation 3 asks us to consider two key principles. It asks us to reflect on how we can ensure that pupils will receive our feedback in the right way. I often switch my hat here and view this as I would a parent – considering the social and emotional aspect that feedback has on children. Feedback does need to be honest and move learning forward but I firmly believe that it should be framed in a way that it will be received positively and boost confidence. The second message of Recommendation 3 is ensuring that pupils use feedback to close learning gaps. In my mind, this is only possible where it is effectively planned as part of pupil’s curriculum entitlement or else it will not achieve the desired impact. At the end of the day, impact is key – giving our learners the best chances to improve and enjoy success – and effective feedback, well received and responded to, is a fundamental part of that success.

Juliet Staffordis a Senior Leader at Etone College, Nuneaton and ELE for the Staffordshire Research School

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