The fundamental importance of formative feedback is very clear, something that all teachers, administrators and politicians would agree upon. A rare thing in education!
John Hattie, in his review of approximately 800 meta-analyses encompassing over 50,000 studies, found that, ‘the most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement is feedback.’ Hattie goes on to say that feedback must be focused, specific and clear in order to be beneficial to the student. He stresses the well-known teaching truth that effective feedback comes in a variety of forms, with verbal feedback often being the most powerful. Why? Because it allows teachers to adapt their lessons accordingly in real time.
Despite all the evidence, giving good written feedback is still problematic. Too much of teachers’ time is taken up by marking, which often doesn’t do anything to move the students’ learning forward. Teachers are also sometimes guilty of providing generic comments that are meaningless. Phrases like, ‘develop these ideas further’, ‘you must try harder’, ‘more detail needed’ or the classic, ‘good work, keep it up’. The reality is that many students don’t even bother to read the comments they are given, fixating more on the grade. And even if they do happen to read the feedback, it is often not understood or acted upon.
We should mark less often, but much more effectively. Every new teacher has stories of staying late after school to finish marking. It can consume your life. But as you gain experience in teaching, you strive for quality over quantity. We should try to only give feedback that we know has the power to really impact our students’ learning.
One great way to evaluate the effectiveness of feedback given to students is to ask them to ‘mark your marking’. Simple but profound. Feedback should work both ways.
‘The mistake I was making was seeing feedback as something teachers provided to students – they typically did not, although they made claims that they did it all the time, and most of the feedback they did provide was social and behavioural. It was only when I discovered that feedback was most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher that I started to understand it better. When teachers seek, or at least are open to, feedback from students as to what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged – then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful. Feedback to teachers helps make learning visible.’