We have received it all of our lives; some of us run from it; some love and welcome it; others heap it on in large amounts, much to the annoyance of friends and family; feedback! Done well, (and received with the right attitude) it can lead to significant growth. Conversely, meted poorly it can crush the spirit or result in inertia induced frustration. This short post outlines five ways we can avoid giving poor feedback.

1. Over kill.

Too much feedback can result in over dependency. This can become disempowering for learners as they develop a ‘handout’ mentality and feel helpless without constant reassurance. Worse still, the sheer volume of numerous points of feedback can overwhelm students.

2. Accurate but unhelpful feedback.

Dylan William’s anecdote of a learner who received feedback from a science teacher which read “You need to be more systematic in planning your scientific inquiries” lucidly illustrates this problem. The feedback was accurate but, quite unhelpful as the learner needed to know how to be more systematic! Helpful feedback is specific and deals with the how more so than what

3. Unclear progression models.

Essentially, the purpose of feedback is to progress learning from one stage to another. The crucial word here is stage. Both feedback recipient and giver need to know what the standard at each stage looks like. Take for example a grading system in a martial art. At each grade, there are clear benchmarks to identify that someone has reached a particular level of proficiency. This is non-negotiable- the standard is the standard. The same rule should apply to progression models for subjects. This is the guide map in how to get to the destination and the deliberate practice is the physical journey to reach it.

4. Too late. (Cue sad face emoji)

There are strong arguments and evidence bases to suggest that feedback is most impactful when delivered in the moment- a challenging prospect for educators with 20-30 learners in a classroom, potentially more if you’re a lecturer. Feedback is most helpful when it allows learners to correct that which they have executed poorly. If the moment has passed, well…

5. Unguided peer assessment.

This links to point 3. It’s vitally important that learners have a firm grasp of what quality looks like. In the absence of this, peer assessment comments nebulously  look a little like so: ‘really neat handwriting’, ‘nice words used’, ‘you really thought about this task’, ‘write more next time’. Eurgh!

I’m no guru when it comes to feedback but 10 years in the classroom and reading quality literature has taught me some fundamentals of feedback.

Recommended reading:

-Embedded Formative Assessment Dylan Wiliam

-The Future of Assessment for Learning Daisy Christodolou

-Inside the Black Box Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black

-Thanks for The Feedback Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone