Effective feedback for learning comes from teachers responding to students with the specific goal of improving the student’s performance. Feedback is more than just praise or criticism. It’s an ongoing process of assessment, communication, adjustment. Many parts of giving feedback – especially at the assessment and communications stages – benefit from the use of modern EdTech. And of course, we include some recommended resources.
So to learn more about effective feedback for learning – and how to upgrade your feedback for the 21st century – read the rest of our helpful guide below.
Giving effective feedback for learning is one of the best ways to improve student performance. Constructive feedback allows a teacher to build and maintain a conversation over time. Education technology empowers teachers to help students on an individual basis. With the right technology, instructors deliver timely, effective feedback with the power to achieve greater learning.
What is Effective Feedback?
Effective feedback doubles how quickly students learn. However, not all feedback is helpful. And not everything we think of as feedback qualifies as effective feedback. Feedback is defined as “information allowing a learner to reduce the gap between what is evident currently and what could or should be the case.” That is, information about how a student is doing in his or her efforts to reach a goal.
Effective feedback doubles how quickly students learn. While it may seem like a simple concept, delivering effective feedback can be difficult for even the most dedicated educators.
In real-world classrooms, however, feedback often doesn’t live up to this ideal. Students and teachers often have different perceptions of feedback. One study showed that teachers thought they were giving a lot of helpful feedback.
Trained classroom observers, however, reported low levels of teacher-to-student feedback. The students themselves said they received very little feedback from their teachers, no more than “a few seconds a day.”
Education pros admit to finding the concept of effective feedback challenging. The term “feedback” is used to mean commentary on performance, action or assignment. However, effective feedback with the ability to improve learning has very specific features. In order to provide feedback for learning that’s truly effective, knowing and avoiding what isn’t feedback becomes the most important step.
What Effective Feedback Isn’t
Before going into detail on effective feedback for learning, let’s look at some things it isn’t.
- A grade or score. B+ or 67% provide no information on how to improve.
- Value judgments. “Good,” “bad,” or “interesting!” don’t tell students anything about why you’re making that judgment – or what they can do to do better next time.
- Advice. Opinions, guidance, and general suggestions are too vague.
- Assessment. May provide broad comparative data about student learning but no real direction.
- Evaluation. This is judgmental and comparative. It is often identifiable by the heavy use of adverbs and adjectives.
- Praise. Positive pats on the back feel good but lack the detail needed to implement change.
The above responses all lack the ability to help students do better. Real feedback for learning is information crafted with the sole aim of improving performance.
The Building Blocks of Effective Feedback for Learning
By understanding the building blocks of effective feedback, teachers are able to improve education. Feedback exerts a strong influence on learning and achievement. However, the type of feedback provided and the way instructors deliver it results in varying degrees of effectiveness. Studies show when feedback is mostly negative, it can discourage effort and achievement.
Therefore, it’s important to note that not all feedback is created equal. To generate a high degree of learning, effective feedback should be:
- Goal-referenced. To enable high-impact feedback for learning, a student must first be working toward a defined goal. They must also understand that goal. Feedback can then relate directly to the goal. It can offer specific insight into whether the student is on track to meet the goal or needs to change course.
- Tangible and transparent. Useful feedback delivers clear, specific details about how to better move toward a goal. It is so concrete and specific that anyone with the same goal can learn from it.
- Actionable. Effective feedback provides concrete information upon which students can act to alter their results. By contrast, vague or value-based statements such as “Well done” or “Incorrect” don’t help students understand why they did well or what they should do to improve.
- User-friendly. Feedback for learning should be carefully crafted. It should be delivered in a way that makes it easy to understand. To be effective, it needs to be accessible to the audience, be it an entire class or one student.
- Timely. Deliver feedback as soon as possible after students have completed work. When they receive feedback while their efforts are still fresh in mind it will have its greatest impact.
- Ongoing and consistent. To improve performance, students need the chance to get feedback, try again, then receive more input. This is the essence of formative feedback.
- Focused. Feedback should be focused on behavior. It should not be about changing a person’s characteristics or personality.
- Proactive. Don’t delay or avoid providing feedback. The student needs to constantly know how to improve, or they’ll get discouraged. Immediately address smaller problems, and express how things can improve.
- Descriptive. Use language that directly describes how a student’s actions need to change. By speaking in terms of behavior, the student understands exactly what they need to do to get better.
Each of these qualities of effective feedback is critical to success. Timing, however, is the glue that holds them all together. Even when feedback refers to a goal, is tangible, actionable and delivered in a way that’s meaningful to the recipient, it will be less impactful if the timing isn’t right. The most successful feedback for learning is delivered both consistently and close to the time the effort is made.
For an in-depth discussion of each of these qualities of effective feedback for learning see this article for greater insight into the qualities of great feedback.
Case in Point: Effective Feedback for Learning in Action
Typical lecture-driven classes often produce less-than-optimal learning. Thanks to Harvard Physics professor Eric Mazur, instructors have an alternative approach. Mazur noticed that the 200 students in his Introductory Physics students were doing a great job with textbook-style problems. They were floundering, however, when it came to applying this knowledge to other situations. After some soul-searching and exploration, Mazur developed the peer instruction approach.
The peer instruction model is the foundation for the way we now think about active learning. Today, Mazur rarely lectures to his students. Instead, he gives them problems to think about on their own, which they then discuss in small groups. This, writes Mazur:
[P]rovides frequent and continuous feedback (to both the students and the instructor) about the level of understanding of the subject being discussed.
This, he states, produces gains in both conceptual understanding of the subject and problem-solving skills. “Less teaching,” plus more feedback equals better results.
Feedback vs. Assessment
In education, feedback gains power when it’s delivered throughout the learning process. Assessments are typically administered at the end of the process to see how well a student has learned compared to a benchmark. Giving feedback in learning may also be referred to as “formative assessment.”
Formative assessment means ongoing monitoring, and commentary, of the student on a continual basis. Instructors use formative assessment to adjust and improve their approach. Summative assessment, by contrast, is a one-time evaluation at the end of a teaching unit. It may also refer to mandated standardized testing.
The formative assessment usually qualifies as feedback during learning. Summative assessment almost always does not. Educators can use info from summative assessments in a formative way, to guide their future efforts. The promise of education technology is to create a formative assessment classroom, providing effective feedback to the student.
How to Improve Feedback with Educational Technology
Providing appropriate, frequent, actionable feedback is no small challenge for educators. Studies suggest it’s not happening enough. In fact, a review of literature on feedback for learning in higher education revealed that current feedback practices aren’t working.
Fortunately, the review also highlighted a growing number of studies that demonstrate technology’s ability to boost student engagement with feedback. This suggests that changing the process by which feedback is made available to students can increase their attention, engagement, and follow-through.
Many instructors seek creative ways to use technology to enrich their communication with students. This trend is escalating as evidence for the positive impact of tech on feedback for learning grows. It will continue to increase as younger, tech-savvy educators enter the classroom. Seasoned educators will push this trend forward as they receive professional development, gain tech experience and become more comfortable with today’s teaching tools.
Tech Tools & Techniques for Feedback Learning
Some of the most-used and most-effective ways to leverage technology to deliver feedback learning include:
- Electronic Publishing
- Audio Capture
- Image + Audio
- Computer Assisted Assessment
- Live Polling
- Blogs/Other Peer Activities
Several studies have shown increased learning impact when teachers give feedback electronically. This may be due to the greater flexibility provided. With electronic feedback, students can focus on and digest comments at a time of their choosing, in the absence of their peers.
Typed responses are also often more legible than written comments. They are also often less ambiguous than feedback delivered verbally, face to face. With electronic feedback, students can refer repeatedly to cumulative comments as they move through the curriculum. Student affinity for electronic interaction may also engender greater engagement with this type of feedback.
No time to meet one-on-one to discuss student progress? Digitally recording audio feedback lets instructors provide detailed feedback that’s especially engaging for auditory learners. Short on time for typing detailed responses? Verbal feedback can be faster and more thorough.
Digital audio files can expand simple written feedback. With audio, “incorrect sentence structuring” can easily become a detailed explanation of what was wrong and how to correct it. Plus, struggling students can listen to recorded comments as many times as needed to boost their understanding.
Teaching tip: For quick, easy recording, try apps like Evernote, Desire2Learn, and Vocaroo to record and send audio feedback. Your interactive whiteboard may also be able to help – some IWBs include integrated audio-capture along with screen saving abilities.
Visual + Audio
Video screen capture combines visual data and audio narration. Commonly known as screencasting, with this tool, instructors can deliver a powerful dose of engaging feedback that students can save and refer to as needed. Screencasts capture the content on your computer screen while you narrate. They’re great tools for providing feedback, creating tutorials or showcasing student mastery. Creating YouTube videos for feedback and using Skype to conduct interviews further leverage the visual and verbal for greater learning.
Feedback provided during computer-based formative assessment activities can be highly engaging. This is because students are receiving instant feedback throughout the learning activity. This approach has become increasingly popular at all grade levels and within virtual learning environments. Many cloud-based formative feedback tools have been developed up to support these efforts. (See Formative Feedback & Technology below.)
Formative, Socrative, and the other teacher-recommended tools noted below deliver powerful real-time feedback. They are useful both as whole-class tools used on your interactive whiteboard and used on 1:1 devices.
Research has shown that classroom response systems – also known as “clickers” – create a more dynamic, interactive classroom experience. This results in increased attendance, participation, and learning. Clickers are hand-held transmission devices similar to TV remote controls. They enable each student to submit real-time responses during instruction. These responses give teachers instant insight into how well students are grasping the lesson. This then enables teachers to adjust the lesson and to provide relevant feedback.
Blogs & Other Peer Activities
Educators have found that receiving feedback from peers improves student performance. Technology provides an ideal tool for expanding this approach. Blogs are a great way to encourage writing practice and facilitate peer feedback opportunities.
Teaching tip: Try letting students choose their own blog topics to boost enthusiasm. See here for more insight into how to begin the process that improved writing skills and enthusiasm in this instructor’s class.
Feedback and Technology
Classroom technology, including apps and cloud services, are designed to deliver feedback and shorten the feedback loop. The sooner feedback is delivered, the more meaningful it is to students. Formative, a favorite among ViewSonic educator partners, is one such tool. A free cloud-based service, it’s available for download at goformative.com.
Formative lets teachers create assignments, deliver them to students, receive results, and provide individualized feedback for learning in real-time. Formative gives you great flexibility. You can create different types of questions, add text blocks, images, YouTube videos – then students fill in answers and can even draw an answer, which is great for math and science. Teachers can upload pre-existing documents or use the platform to create paperless assignments from scratch.
Easy to set up and use, Formative runs on any internet-connected device. Matt Miller, author of Ditch That Textbook, is a big fan of Formative. He recommends it for its ability to give students meaningful feedback while they’re still in the moment when they’re more likely to engage with the feedback and put it to good use:
The beauty of all this is that you can see students work in real time and when they’re logged into their student accounts you can type them a comment they’ll see instantly, in the moment while they’re still cognitively wrestling with the subject.
Other popular formative assessment tools include Socrative, Kahoot, and Backchannel Chat Tools. Classrooms without 1:1, BYOD or clickers can accomplish polling for feedback with Plickers and QuickKey.
Feedback: Knowing What They Don’t Know
Teaching a challenging computer science concept, educator Vicki Davis dramatically experienced the teacher-student feedback perception gap. It forever changed her thinking about formative assessment. After reviewing how to count in binary numbers, two students exclaimed, “We’ve got this! Let’s move on.”
Davis queried the classmates, who nodded and agreed that they understood the concept. Although her instincts told her the class was ready to move on, Davis decided to test her gut using the formative assessment tool Socrative, which is similar to Formative discussed above. Davis wrote a problem on her IWB and student answers appeared alongside their names. Only two students provided the correct answers.
Davis was then able to execute on the idea of formative assessment – keeping it ongoing and in the moment. She taught for a bit longer, retested, and continued the process until everyone had mastered the problems. While this may sound time consuming and laborious, it was far from it. In keeping with her practice of sticking with the subject until all students score 90% or higher on the test, Davis was able to complete the binary number instructional unit two days faster than usual.
Plus, not a single student needed to come in for after-school tutoring. Said Davis, “I’m sold,” adding in her blog that “Test scores should never be a surprise. You don’t need to be a mind reader. You just need a formative assessment toolbox, and you need to use it every day.”
Using Interactive Whiteboards for Learning-Focused Feedback
Interactive whiteboards (IWBs) empower instructors to address two of the most critical components of feedback for learning: keeping it timely and consistent. When used with interactive learning apps, students working at the board receive immediate responses that tell them how they’re doing. (The options are virtually endless; think MathPlayground, PBS KIDS apps, DuoLingo, and Tiny Cards.)
Quick action and repetition allow students to keep trying until they get it right. This delivers the consistent, ongoing input critical to turning feedback into learning – exactly what’s needed. As stated by one formative assessment expert:
Adjusting our performance depends on not only receiving feedback but also having opportunities to use it…. Thus, the more feedback I can receive in real time, the better my ultimate performance will be.
This is how all highly successful computer games work. If you play Angry Birds, Halo, Guitar Hero, or Tetris, you know that the key to substantial improvement is that the feedback is both timely and ongoing. When you fail, you can immediately start over—sometimes even right where you left off—to get another opportunity to receive and learn from the feedback.”
Adding polling devices your IWB lets you gather individual, real-time responses. These responses can then be addressed with individualized or group feedback addressing the various categories of misunderstanding revealed by the polled responses.
The most helpful interactive boards can record on-screen content. This provides another easy way to deliver ongoing feedback for learning. This feature lets instructors save files that include feedback written on the board during a lesson. ViewSonic® ViewBoard’s™ exclusive audio-record function captures on-screen info plus verbal comments made by the instructor and students. With either function, instructors can later send the file to students for review and reference.
ViewSonic exclusive Direct-to-Google-Drive Save makes it even easier to share ViewBoard feedback files in Google-based classrooms. IWBs with the ability to import online learning tools and apps let teachers further customize feedback to meet their classroom needs.
Effective Feedback Counts
Providing students with the right type of feedback, at the right times and with an optimal degree of frequency is one of the most important things educators can do to ensure that their instructive efforts take root. Crafting feedback that is goal-referenced, tangible, actionable and accessible, then delivering it in a timely, consistent manner will maximize its impact on learning outcomes.
Technology offers many options for enhancing the delivery of truly effective feedback for learning. Interactive whiteboards, formative feedback apps, classroom response systems, electronic publishing, and audio capture are among the tools educators can leverage to more fully engage students. Education technology, like the ViewSonic ViewBoard, empowers teachers to help students succeed by enhancing their ability to deliver effective feedback.