Effective Feedback: A Tool for Learning and Achievement

By Betty Hollas

Many factors contribute to overall student achievement. However, One of the single most powerful factor is feedback. According to decades of research, effective feedback can have an immediate impact on results, lower student failure rates, improve attendance, and even decrease suspensions.

In today’s changing educational environment, new standards and increased pressure to achieve have compelled educators to take a fresh look at feedback and re-define its meaning and practice.

In this article, we’ll explore what effective feedback is and looks like, the difference it makes, and how teachers can use it in their classrooms.

What feedback is—and isn’t

Simply stated, feedback is information about performance in relation to a stated goal. It motivates students, encourages growth, and improves performance.

Classroom feedback boils down to two types. Evaluative feedback relies on grades, rewards such as extra recess or stickers, or detailed correction (“fixing”) of the problem for the student. In contrast, descriptive feedback provides information about what a student did or did not know or do combined with guidance as to how performance can be improved.

Improving your feedback—5 basics

When planning your approach to improving daily feedback, keep the following considerations in mind:

  • 1. Make it goal-related. Students can hit any target as long as they know what it is. Explain the goal of the task or lesson. For example, is it related to a standard? Ensure students know what success looks like. Have them paraphrase the learning goal and identify criteria for success. Seeing exemplary models will help them create a vision of success.
  • 2. Be clear, specific, and understandable. Obvious? Unfortunately, no. Students often don’t understand the feedback their teacher gives. To ensure their understanding, ask follow-up questions, like “What is the most important thing you are going to do now?”
  • 3. Use the correct type of feedback. Feedback about the task—which is most used in the classroom—lets students know how well they are performing. Feedback about processing of the task encourages students to become aware of their thinking: “You seem to be highlighting a lot of text. Try reading it first.” When giving the third type of feedback—about the task—teachers are not telling students what to do, but guiding them: “You will want to include more feeling words here to bring out your voice.” Finally, feedback about self-regulation helps students with their self-management, self-monitoring, and actions as they work toward a goal: “That hard work paid off because your piece was selected for the art show.”
  • 4. Time your feedback. Feedback is not effective when it’s weeks after a test, ignores persistent errors or misconceptions, or is too late to affect a learning goal. Strike when the iron is hot—return an assignment within a day or two, give immediate oral responses to errors or misconceptions, let students hear from you when they can still use your feedback to achieve a near long-term learning goal.
  • 5. Use a variety of modes. Teachers have access to a wide collection of feedback approaches—oral, written, demonstration, questioning and conversations, and technology. Try all of them in your classroom and see how it feels. And, don’t forget how effectively students can provide their own feedback. In one study, students showed a 32% gain in achievement when tracking their own progressive using graphic displays.

For a deeper look at the feedback process and how to make the most of it, check out SDE’s webinar Feedback that Sizzles, Not Fizzles: Growth Producing Feedback Strategies for Grades 3–8 by veteran educator and author Betty Hollas.

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