Wednesday 30 October 2013

Can I be that little bit better at......understanding why feedbackdoesn't stick?

The feedback goblin

There is no doubting that feedback is one of the most important key components of teaching.  We use it every day, in various forms and in response to various situations.  If used well it can have such an impact on the learning of students.  In fact according to Hattie, if used as effectively as possible, it can have an effect size of d=0.79 which is twice the average impact of other classroom methods.  But that statement itself has one key problem: "if used as effectively as possible".  Unfortunately, as Hattie (2012) states:

"Feedback is among the most common features of successful teaching and learning.  But there is an enigma: while feedback is among the most powerful moderators of learning, its effects are among the most variable" 

So why is the impact of feedback so varied?  Why is it that sometimes when we provide detailed feedback about a piece of work or learning, this piece never improves?  Why is it also the problem that after meticulously providing feedback for students in an effort to move learning forward, this feedback is never acted upon?  Why is it that after providing high quality feedback, students still don't know what to do to make that work better?  There is clearly a chink in the system and identifying it in our own teaching, and then addressing it, can ensure most of our effort is not wasted.  Surely there are simple ways to tweak what we as teachers do to make feedback work better, stick more, empower students and actually make them act upon it.  Well as usual there aren't any miracle cures.  How we give feedback in one lesson may not not suit the next.  How we provide feedback to one student in a class may not be helpful to the person sitting next to them.  The art of providing feedback is a large task to master.  In fact I'm not sure that I will personally ever master it and that gremlin may remain!  However, if we think about what feedback is, what it includes and who is involved in the process, can we get that little bit better at using it?

So what is feedback?

Feedback itself doesn't have one universal definition.  Of the many great attempts to define it there are a few that personally resonate with me:

"the process used by teachers and students to recognise and respond to student learning in order to enhance that learning, during the learning"   Cowie, Bronwen, Bell, Beverley (1999)

"feedback aims to reduce the gap between where the student 'is' and where he or she is meant to be"  Sadler (1989)

The process of is simple at first glance but making as effective as possible requires a lot more thought.  At its most basic is is the simple provision of information about performance, learning or understanding.  At its best it can resemble a map, providing clear references of where we have been, where we are, where we are going and what the immediate landscape may be like as students continue on with their journey.  Its form can come in many ways using both verbal and written methods.  Any provision of feedback by a teacher or even a peer is aimed at helping that individual move the learning process forward.  We use it numerous times in a lesson and it impacts many of our students.  Usually (as stated by both Wiliam and Hattie) it uses a strong goal or learning intention, combined with clear success criteria, as a means to reference feedback to.  This is vital as students need to use this feedback to see what the aim is and how to get there.  When there is clarity in the task or learning taking place, the power of the feedback is improved.  Over the years many educators and teachers across the globe have developed methods and means of providing feedback to students which they find works.  The key though is making the way we use this notion of feedback to have as much impact as possible.  If we can find ways to increase the potential  of feedback, we increase the learning potential of our students.

The problem is though, in both my own teaching and in the teaching of others, I have had so many conversations about how feedback simply isn't sticking with students.  It's not surprising when its's claimed that 70% of the feedback we give is not received by students. In some cases fellow teachers have even questioned whether it is worth the time and effort providing it if it is never read or used.  But I still believe it is.  I don't think that feedback should be written off.  In fact I think it deserves even more attention and investigation.  There has to be reasons or triggers within the process that can be tweaked or improved.  But the process isn't simple itself.  It involves us as educators reflecting on three things:

  1. Teacher - how we approach and use feedback
  2. The methods - that we choose to use
  3. Students - perceptions, views and making it work.

The teacher - our approach and use of feedback

I haven't met many teachers who don't value the importance of feedback.  A few question its effectiveness but I am pretty confident that even they dedicate a lot of their teaching to providing it.  But could it be our approach as teachers that is causing the whole process to lose its effectiveness?  Are our views on its part in learning as clear as they should be?  Do we set it up in a way that means it has maximum impact?  Are we getting students to value the process so that they engage with it?  All of these things are components that we as teachers have control over and can change.  So what could be tweaked (especially in my own teaching)?  Well here's a few areas we as teachers could focus on:

Feedback is not the end of the line - There are times if we are not careful that feedback itself becomes the end product of a piece of work.  It becomes the final thing that we do as teachers when the learning process is over.  How many times over the years have I asked students to submit a piece of work which I then write the only piece of feedback on it.  How many times have student handed in homework and received a comment which then is never subsequently acted upon?  Over time students believe that this is when feedback occurs - when learning is done.  It becomes the end of the line, the final stop and time for students to depart this journey and begin a new one.  With no action its like the students have slept most of the way.  This summative method of providing feedback is the first stumbling point in the whole process.  By providing feedback only at the end of learning, students do not have an opportunity to act on it.  Instead we should be providing feedback that moves the learning forward (Wiliam, 2011).  Feedback that provides a recipe for future action (Wiliam, 2011).  Feedback should be part of the process of learning and not simply the final statement on students work.  Students should receive this during learning and at times when they need it most.  It should form a continued dialogue for which we can see the process of learning evolve.  What this continued and responsive approach also provides is an opportunity for us to plan in deliberate practice which students can engage in to move this learning forward.  All of a sudden this 'end point' feedback feels very redundant and may be the first crack in the system.

When - When to provide feedback is almost as important as how we provide feedback.  Hattie (2012) states that feedback should be "Just in time, just for me, just for where I am in the learning process and just what I need to help me move forward".  As we have just talked about, feedback should be a clear part of the learning process and one that can be used to make subsequent improvements and progress.  Little and often is a sound rule of thumb.  It requires nothing more that gut instinct and knowing your students.  As teachers we should be creating opportunities to feedback during the learning process and this usually occurs when students are stuck.  This timing can ensure that students get back on track and progress forward.  But (and there's always a but), we can get this timely terribly wrong.  If we leave our intervening and provision of feedback too long, students could give up or become off task.  Getting to all of those students effectively and quickly who may be stuck is difficult and one I know I need to reflect on how to manage this better.  But there is an even bigger point to highlight.  Hattie points out that feedback can only build on something: it is of little use when there is no initial learning or surface information.  And so?  Well there are times when I set students off on a task.  They work and the class is silent for a minute or two.  Then what sets in is the 'surely I should be doing something and helping students' default mode.  If I'm not doing something then I mustn't be doing my job. And heaven knows what someone would think if they walked into my lesson and I'm not looking busy.  But jumping in and giving students feedback straight away isn't the key.  As Wiliam points out about the timing of feedback:

"If it is given too early, before students have had a chance to work on a problem, then they will learn less".

So resisting that urge and allowing learning to take place is so vital.  They need to understand what it is they might need feedback on before I actually give it.  Allowing the class to work isn't being lazy, it's giving students the opportunity to learn, and work out what they don't know.  But then again there are also times when we set a task and immediately have a student saying they're stuck.  In this instance the principle is the same.  Instead of providing feedback or giving them the answer, provide further instruction.  They need to learn before feedback is provided.  So with that in mind, is it our timing of feedback that is a reason it doesn't stick?

Marking policy or feedback policy? - This to an extent is probably out of the control of a classroom teacher.  Many schools create a policy and implements it out across the various departments.  Many highlight the expected frequency of marking, the types of comments, methods of feedback provision and much more.  The problem is that we should be shifting from a marking policy to a feedback policy.  Why?  Alex Quigley provides reasons much better than I ever can here.  For many reasons a marking policy can be seen as a strict code of practice that all must follow to ensure that books are uniformed and up to date.  A marking policy can also be seen as simply providing marks which are usually the indicator of an endpoint.  A flick and tick exercise in the worst case.  Instead a 'feedback policy' can help change the mindset of staff and recognise the continuous methods of formative assessment (written or oral) that is given numerous times within a lesson.  It also forces staff to think that providing comments is not the end of the process, but should be part of the process for which students need to interact with.  Tom Sherrington in his post here explains how Saffron Walden County High School have adopted something similar but takes it a step further.  The school has a generic cycle which all staff must follow.  The unique feature though is that each department tailor makes the cycle to fit in to their subject specific context.  What you see in Maths is different from Art but is driven by the same cycle and its principles.  This prompted me to create this cycle for my own purposes.

In its simplicity it all revolves around learning.  The cycle allows me to plan feedback into my lessons as well as use methods/strategies that tick all of the features.  The key areas to focus on in this though is the provision of feedback and feedforward, the time to allow this to be acted upon, and the opportunity to re-assess and ascertain whether the gap has actually been closed.  Could a department or whole school policy be formed on the basis of feedback using a similar cycle?  If that's beyond our influence, can we use something similar to ensure that we create our own personal feedback policy that ensures these key principles are used all of the time?  Simply using it as a basis in our lessons ensures that we as teachers pay more attention to the feedback provision we give.

What we say - Thinking about every single comment that we pass to students as a form of feedback can be quite a challenging task.  There are times when we have the best intentions about providing feedback in a certain way.  Occasionally though, we may say things or pass feedback that actually isn't as helpful as it could of been.  These are the times when what we say probably has the biggest impact as a teacher for how the feedback is received.  So what things should we think about?  The next few points address this:

Faulty interpretationsThere are times when providing feedback to a student may not be beneficial at all.  Hattie in his 2007 paper explains that feedback:

"is most powerful when it addresses faulty interpretations, not a total lack of understanding. Under the latter circumstance, it may even be threatening to a student: “If the material studied is unfamiliar or abstruse, providing feedback should have little effect on criterion performance, since there is no way to relate the new information to what is already known” (Kulhavy, 1977, p. 220)."

Hattie explains that students who are really struggling with understanding will not benefit at all when we try to intervene with feedback.  He advises that at a stage like this it is probably more beneficial to provide further instruction, additional explanations or clarity through an example.  Now this shift is easier to do when we are working face to face with students and providing oral feedback.  But on pieces of classwork or even home learning, the comments that we give can have a limited effect.  It also becomes quite a large task to provide clear enough instruction for students in written format.  It's simply easier to tell them face to face.  So when students are really struggling in this setting, instruction and not feedback is vital.  Knowing this, can we tweak the comments we give on these pieces of work, or even arrange time set aside to act on this in person?

Whole class feedback - Now I have been guilty of this a lot.  There are times when after observing the class or speaking to a few individuals we make an address to all students.  Our intentions are honorable as we seek to share a common misconception or error with everyone.  The problem is that most of this feedback misses our students as they are unsure or unaware of who this feedback is actually being directed to.  If nobody knows who it is for then who is actually receiving it?  As time efficient and as well intended as this is, simply providing feedback on such a large scale loses its overall effectiveness and becomes a method that has low impact.  Targeting specific individuals or working with small groups is a more beneficial strategy.  Can we as teachers be more mindful of this in the future?

Giving and receiving - David Carless in 2006 wrote a paper titled 'Differing perceptions in the feedback process'.  I will refer to this a lot more later on but a startling number of facts from his research emerged.  Again it centers around the efficiency of the feedback that we provide.  In his study, he found that 70% of teachers claimed that the feedback that they gave was detailed enough for students to use.  Unfortunately only 45% of students agreed that feedback was of this standard.  This is quite startling and if it is similar across all classrooms, that is a lot of wasted feedback which is simply not hitting home.  So as an educator is there a way that we can make these percentages align?  Well using advice from Carless, Hattie and Wiliam, there are a few things that we can do to improve the impact.  One is to address the complexity of our feedback.  Carless noticed that on a number of occasions, students found the comments of the teacher too confusing, too detailed or too specific to that task.  Dylan Wiliam also confirms this and states that sometimes less is more in terms of what we say/give.  The feedback we are providing should be helpful to the learner in making future improvements.  Unfortunately we sometimes provide feedback that is very accurate and specific, but this simply makes students unsure of what they need to do to progress or work on.

Carless also makes the point that sometimes this feedback is too task specific and is not seen as transferable to future learning.  Instead of addressing specifics that may not be revisited in the future, look at generic skills such as 'how effective students are referencing evidence' as a basis instead.  This is something that can be used repeatedly and more frequently in future tasks.

Finally, interpretation of grading or assessment criteria can also be too specific.  These can sometimes be extremely detailed and long winded.  Students can find the terminology and differences between boundaries confusing.  As teachers are we able to break this down into more manageable chunks which students can access and reference more easily?

Praise or no praise? - I feel that this may cause the most debate.  This is also an area that I had the most discussion with colleagues at school about.  Praise is a tough thing to isolate when giving feedback.  We sometimes do it automatically.  I know that I use "Well done....." or similar praise comments when talking about students work.  But the giving of praise can actually be detrimental when trying to provide feedback.  Praise on its own has very little impact as it provides no constructive instruction to the learning or task.  Mixing praise with other comments can also reduce the impact of feedback.  As Butler (1988) found out, 'feedback through comments alone led to learning gains, whereas marks alone or comments accompanied by marks or giving praise did not.'  It seems that the giving of praise redirects the attention of the student and actually distracts them from the comments that they are receiving.  So what are some of the pitfalls that research suggests we fall into?  Well it is suggested most praise is normally directed towards the student themselves.  It comes in the form of comments like "Good girl" or "Great piece of work from a great student".  This is difficult for the student to reference or take control of.  It also fails to tell them what to do with the work or even acknowledge gaps in learning?  Hattie (2011) identifies that student orientated praise also affects their self perceptions.  Some will want to be seen as a good student, others will want to avoid being a good student because praise is present in the classroom.  Another issue is we usually praise underachieving or struggling students more.  This can ultimately lead to praise being given out when it isn't really deserved, or even worse, that praise being seen as false so future praise has even less impact.

But wait a moment, are you saying we shouldn't give praise?  Not at all, instead we need to turn to the work of Dweck.  As Wiliam (2011) states:

"It is also essential that praise is related to factors within an individual's control, so praising a gifted student for simply being gifted is likely to lead to negative consequences in the long term (Dweck, 2006)"

Hattie (2011) also agrees with this by saying that:

"praise directed to the effort, self-regulation, engagement, or processes relating to the task and its performance (e.g., “You’re really great because you have diligently completed this task by applying this concept”). This latter type of praise can assist in enhancing self-efficacy and thus can be converted by students back into impact on the task, and hence the effects are much greater."
So what does this mean?  In a nutshell, most research says that if we give praise we should be directing it to variables that students have control over.  These are things such as effort or process.  By issuing praise and attributing to how hard a student has worked ("It's really great to see how much effort you have put in") or the way in which they have done it ("A really fantastic way in which you have structured your....") means that the student can do something about it.  They have control over the amount of effort they put into future tasks.  They also have control over the strategy, method or way in which they complete a task.  So can we as teachers change the way we use praise?

Grades or no grades - Again this is a very difficult discussion to have.  Our education system is built up on the notion of grades, however as a form of feedback they have no effect and in some cases make the learning worse.  Giving grades to students has shown to cause no improvements in subsequent work.  To many, as soon as students get a grade, the learning stops (Kohn, 1994).  It is seen as the end of that particular learning process.  We therefore need to think very hard about how we use them.  Dylan Wiliam dedicates a whole section to the use of grades in feedback.  In numerous research studies around the use of feedback with students, grades on their own or combined with comments have no impact on learning.  Even when you combine them with comments I hear you say?  As Wiliam points out:
"Most teachers, therefore, are surprised to learn that the effect of giving both scores and comments was the same as the effect of giving scores alone.  Far from producing the best effects of both kinds of feedback, giving scores alongside the comments completely washed out the beneficial effects of the comments"
Wiliam points out in this situation the teacher might as well just give the grades on their own as the students won't learn anything and it will save teachers a lot of time.  There are three obvious reasons why grades aren't helpful.  First of all they provide no constructive feedback.  Giving a student a grade doesn't indicate what was achieved and what gaps still need closing.  Secondly, a grade focuses students attention away from any comments.  Some students seem hooked on them and ultimately want to know how well they achieved, sacrificing the urge to improve.  Thirdly, grades feed fixed mindset students.  How many times do we give out grades only for the following thing to happen - students compare with their peers.  All of a sudden the opportunity for moving forward is restricted as students look for social status.  As is the suggestion from numerous pieces of research, constructive comments are much more beneficial to learning than grades.

But hang on, we need to give grades so can we make their use better?  Well yes we can.  I will explain methods of using grades as a form of feedback in my next post.  In a sneak preview, if we break down what a grade means and use it as a criteria for success, a grade can be tweaked to be quite a beneficial method fo feedback to share with students.  It just takes some thought.  So can we step away from grades if possible, or even use them more constructively to improve the impact of feedback?

The students - perceptions, views and making it work for them

In both my #TLT13 and ResearchEd presentation, I saved my focus of students to the end.  Simply because what we do and the methods we use are under our control.  How our students react or engage with feedback is not.  We can set up the best systems and use the best methods, but if a student does not do anything with the feedback, the system fails.  In fact during my session a number of people discussed exactly this point.  One delegate explained what on paper was a fantastic method of providing feedback.  Unfortunately the student response was rarely as high as they expected.

As well as consulting the books and research papers, I conducted an in house survey of 100 students from Year 7 through to Year 11.  The questionnaire I used can be found here. I will refer to this at certain times although my findings were almost exactly the same as what researchers were already saying.  What is listed on the image below are the numerous reasons that students said feedback didn't work for them.

So why doesn't feedback stick with students?  As I stated earlier, it is claimed that 70% of feedback is not received by students.  This is a pretty low return rate for something we know has so much impact if used well.  So what is going on in our feedback process?  Why is it that sometimes students just don't engage or do anything with the feedback we give them?

Oral feedback - In my school survey this issue came up a lot.  Students commented quite a lot on how they preferred oral feedback as it was given specifically to them in a face to face situation.  Students were able to ask questions and seek clarity if needed.  However, many students said although they liked this, there were frequent times when the teachers moved on to speak to another student and they instantly forgot what was said to them.  There are other considerations with oral feedback as well.  Carless (2006) indicated that "whilst tutors may view oral comments as feedback, students may not recognise this form of feedback as much as written comments".  Maybe what we tell students doesn't sink in because if it isn't on paper students aren't sure if it is simply a conversation or a suggestion.  They may miss that it was actually feedback designed to help them improve.  So can we design a process where we can use oral feedback to explain, whilst reinforcing it in written form?

Too much feedback on work = work must be bad - This is a common theme with students.  "If there's a lot of writing on my work it must be bad and I therefore don't read it".  Now this is a common mistake.  Sometimes students need to have detailed feedback but it seems that some students ignore feedback if they see a lot of it on a page.  It seems that they buy into a culture that only poor work receives mass feedback where as good work receives minimal (sometimes only a grade).  In Dylan Wiliam's book Embedded Formative Assessment, he talks about a student conversation in which a girl says "When you get a lot of feedback on your work, it means it wasn't very good".  As the explanation went on, the girl indicated that good work receives a high grade and a little comment like "Good job", whereas less successful work is returned to the students with lots of annotations from the teacher.  As Wiliam states, "To this girl, the more "feedback" you got, the worse your work must have been".  As he points out, used in this way "feedback really is punishment".  So is our helpfulness and good intentions the reason why students ignore our comments?

Peer feedback - In Nuthall's book 'The Hidden Lives of Learners', it is claimed that 85% of the feedback that students receive is from their peers, yet most of this is incorrect (also referenced in Visible Learning, Hattie 2009).  At first I didn't believe this and thought the numbers were out, but actually observing this in the classroom, you see that students ask each other for help or direction far more than they ask you.  How many times do you see individuals checking with each other, or asking each other questions or using a partner when they get stuck?  The problem as Nuthall points out though is this information is usually wrong.  In my survey I found some students gave an answer to their peers just to shut them up.  In Nuthall's book he points out how some students have the best intentions but again give wrong information.  The question here then is, if we know this is going on, surely we need to dedicate time to teach students how to give effective feedback in the first place.  Is this a reason that learning doesn't improve?  Feedback outside our control is given, but it's usually wrong?

How good teachers feedback actually is - I've talked about this before but it seems that students perceive the quality of feedback differently than we do.  With our best intentions, in our eyes, the feedback we provide we believe is helpful.  In a study by Carless (2006), he found that tutors perceived their feedback more positively than students did.  There was a huge gap though with students perceptions though.  For example, Carless found that 38.4% of the teachers in his study thought they gave detailed feedback to students, where as only 10.6% thought they did.  Now it is important to note that his study was in FE but do we think the feedback we give is helpful?  As Hattie and Wiliam point out, sometimes our feedback is too detailed, too specific, to confusing and doesn't move the learning forward.  We need to ensure that we use little and often, focusing on key steps to move the learning forward, referencing it as much as possible to the aims and criteria of the learning.  What we give should act like a map or even scaffold the process further.  Do we do this enough though?

Ability and the fear of error - It seems from the study by Carless (2006) that students of a higher ability were more receptive to feedback.  This was because of their greater confidence and better understanding of both the learning, and what good performance entails.  However, with less able students, feedback carries the risk of being discouraging and misunderstood.  As Carless states "An ability to provide pertinent feedback that does not impact negatively on student egos seems to be a useful skill for tutors to develop".  Now this all works on the self belief of a student and ties in very closely with my next point about the work of Carole Dweck.  Whilst more able have the ability to act upon feedback, do the less able have the capability to work with it as effectively?  Do we differentiate what we say to different students in our class or is it a one size fits all model ?  I know I need to think hard about this.

Dweck's work also links to this issue.  Of her research, Dweck found that students could roughly be split into two types: fixed learners or growth learners.  Growth learners thrive on challenge and see mistakes as a process to learn from.  However, fixed mindset learners worry about errors as an attack on their intelligence and ability therefore are less receptive to it.  These fixed learners aren't just the less able students in the class who attribute poor work for not being very bright.  It can also be the highest achievers whose status in the classroom is equally under threat from feedback, failures, errors and mistakes.  As a teacher, do we work to shift these students to become more growth orientated?  We do this through helping them see that "by working, you are getting smarter" (Wiliam, 2011).  With these students we need to give feedback on things under their control and not attributed to intelligence.  These are things such as effort and the process of which students have worked.  But as teachers do we do this?  Do we get these fixed learners to embrace feedback and learn from mistakes?  If not then it's no surprise that these students don't engage with it.

Teachers give too much feedback - As simple as it sounds (and I have mentioned this in various forms throughout) "In giving feedback, less is often more" (Wiliam, 2011).  Again, sometimes our best intentions, the amount of feedback that we give can be too detailed, too confusing and of moderate quality.  If we refine what we say and focus on a few points, the impact of feedback with students improves.

We don't do anything with the feedback - As I stated in the teacher section, a number of students, especially in my own survey, found that feedback was given but there were no opportunities to follow it up.  This completely devalues the effectiveness of it and over time, students become desensitised to it.  Why would they ever read feedback if there was never an opportunity to act on it?  It becomes a redundant task.  Feedback should be part of the learning process and embedded in a culture of the classroom.  If we don't value it then students won't either.

The feedback I get focuses on what I've done wrong, not what I need to do to improve - It's really easy, especially with a marking policy, to purely focus on what students have got wrong rather than what they need to do to make work/learning better.  Wiliam (2011) talks about how this type of feedback is "rather like the scene in the rearview mirror rather than through the windshield".  If we purely address "what was deficient about the work submitted" then we don't provide students with the chance to improve or move the learning forward.  Do the methods we use address both what needs to improve as well as how to improve?

Involve me in the process - At times, feedback to students can be seen as "You've done this work, now here is my judgement".  As teachers we need to use our experience and expertise to rightly help students move forward.  We have the biggest understanding of gaps in knowledge so should be providing guidance.  But a common theme from students was how it sometimes feels a one way process.  Some students in my in house survey indicated that they knew the particular weaknesses in their work.  The spoke about how they would have loved the opportunity to have been asked if there was anything in particular they would like the teacher to focus on when they check it.  Involving them in the process makes them more receptive to it.

Robotic feedback - For simple efficiency we as teachers usually give out generic feedback statements or comments to groups of learners.  If we didn't we'd be marking and providing feedback for days on end.  But students check with each other and find that if other students have the same worded comments, all of a sudden it becomes impersonal and loses its impact.  They worry that if we haven't put in the effort, why should they.  Now we know that is not the case but students see this as robotic feedback.  They see it as cold and not specifically targeted for them.  Now this is a tricky one, unless we increase our work load (which I don't recommend) is there a way we can tweak this so students do feel it is there to help them?

So now what?

Having an understanding of what we do as teachers, and how students perceive feedback, is a really important point.  The aim is not to completely reinvent how we give feedback, but assess why things might not stick and look to tweak/get that little bit better.  In my next post I will look at methods that aim to tackle many of the above points and make the feedback we give actually have an impact.  In the meantime, here are some more literature on feedback and how to make it more effective:
This is being submitted as part of Octobers #blogsync. Read the other entries here:

#TLT13 and ResearchEd Making Feedback Stick presentation - David Fawcett

Embedded Formative Assessment - Dylan Wiliam 2011

The Power of Feedback: John Hattie and Helen Timperley

Differing perceptions in the feedback process: David Carless

Visible Learning for Teachers - John Hattie 2012

The Hidden Lives of Learners - Graham Nutthal 2007

Edssential - Feedback category

Edssential - Marking category


  1. Great post, which I look forward to returning to to study in more detail. Two quick thoughts.

    1. I think the "end of the line" point is particularly important. Students will probably look at your feedback at the point at which it becomes useful to them - which is when they have to redraft/try again. This brings the whole discussion back to the conversational/dialectic/dialogic/iterative nature of good teaching. I made this point in my blog "In the beginning was the conversation" at

    2. Another point that Wiliam makes in his ?2007 keynote to ALT (referenced in my post) is that what is often better than feedback is appropriate selection of the next learning activity. Sort of "Hmm, that's interesting, why don't you try this one next?" This assumes a degree of personalisation in the assignment policy that can only be handled by appropriate (and currently non-existent) ed-tech solutions. This is what I am calling the "digital dialectic" and will be developing on my blog over the next couple months and at the ICT Matters EdExec conference next Wednesday.

    Thanks for the read.

    1. Hi Crispin

      Your second point is really interesting. I had never thought of that so thank you for suggesting it. I really like the idea that the next step in the process might not just be "act upon my comments" but instead could be a well thought out activity. I like this a lot and will have a think about it. Perfect timing as well as I am currently writing the follow up post looking at the feedback methods that might have most impact. Do you mind if I have a think about a practical solution to this and reference you in it?



  2. The post was really interesting and got me thinking about the importance of feedback.
    A group of Scandinavian teachers have come up with a unique tool to save time on giving the feedback while improving the quality of the feedback for students. If you’re interested in hearing about it, write to me at and I will introduce you to it.