Getting feedback right Part 1 – Why do we give it?

It’s become a truism that feedback is the most important activity that teachers engage in. Feedback, we are repeatedly told, is tremendously powerful and therefore teachers must do more of it. Certainly Hattie, the Sutton Trust and the EEF bandy about impressive effect sizes, but the evidence of flipping through a pupil’s exercise book suggests that the vast majority of what teachers write is ignored or misunderstood.

Teachers’ feedback can certainly have a huge impact but it’s a mistake to believe that this impact is always positive. I written in detail about marking and the power of Directed Improvement Reflection Time. I’ve  also considered some of the things we’re not usually told about feedback and the fact that it might be worth thinking about delaying or reducing the feedback we give. These musings have been important in developing my thinking, but I keep coming back to this slide Dylan Wiliam uses in loads of his presentations:

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 20.14.27

The point he makes is that teachers’ feedback often has unintended consequences; if we’re not careful, it may have the exact opposite result to what we intended. I’ve been thinking about this for some time now and it occurs to me that it might be helpful if we were a lot clearer about why we were giving feedback. Last week I spent the day with CPD leader, Alex Battison and together we decided that there are perhaps only 3 reasons that make giving feedback worthwhile:

  • To provide clarity – most mistakes are made because pupils are unclear on precisely what they should be doing. Providing feedback that points out misconceptions and provides clarification is an essential first step. If we don’t get this right all else is for naught.
  • To get pupils to increase effort – this is the hoary old chestnut at the heart of every success. Try harder is usually of huge benefit. Getting pupils understand what they should be doing is hard enough, but motivating them to actually do it is the master skill.
  • To get pupils to increase aspiration –  There’s certainly some merit in overlearning concepts and practising to the point that errors are eliminated, but feedback may not be necessary to achieve this. But once a goal has been met or exceeded, pupils need to aim for something more challenging. No challenge means no mistakes and no mistakes means that feedback is unlikely to be useful.

If we understood which of these purpose we were engaged in, our feedback might be a lot more useful and a lot more likely to produced the desired results. As always, if we’ve dealt satisfactorily with the why, we are much better placed to think about how.

In my next post I’ll have a punt at suggesting how we might go about giving feedback that fulfils these aims, but in the meantime, please do let me know if you think I’m on the right track.

Getting feedback right Part 2: How do we provide clarity?
Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort?
Getting feedback right Part 4: How can we increase pupils’ aspiration?

32 Responses to Getting feedback right Part 1 – Why do we give it?

  1. Jay Helbert says:

    One of the things I always ask my teachers to do is consider the value of feedback, if it has no effect or a negative one, don’t do it as it only wastes very valuable teacher time. If pupils do not read it, don’t do it. Time must be built into lessons where pupils engage with their feedback from previous learning.
    Feedback is one of the high impact interventions, but we must use it wisely.

  2. mrbenney says:

    The why as well as the how. Spot on. Looking forward to part 2….
    Damian

  3. Sarah Haines says:

    Running inset on Thursday focusing on this – sharing best practice and trying to get across to staff it can be quicker and have impact if it is considered and thought through as part of the learning process. Interestingly discussed the feedback process with my own primary age children and they could explicitly tell me the purpose and process and how they used teacher feedback to improve!

  4. david says:

    Is it worth considering at some point the impact that giving feedback has on the teacher giving it? Feedback hitting your 3 points, resulting in great reactions from the students makes giving feedback worthwhile for the teacher and their CPD, and even better if experiences are shared as with Sarah-or is this another blog?

  5. Sarah Haines says:

    Just that it helps them improve their work and reach their challenge targets! They have to refer back to it frequently – so they look at their feedback for improvement comments – and in next piece of work they highlight where they have achieved this, this time. Thus they can see the worth of the marking becuase they are being asked to constantly use it. Just struck me that my 9 and 11 year old can tell me the sequence / process and the purpose – could all teachers do that?!

  6. Concerned says:

    So you are using feedback to improve performance? Performance != Learning. So we are using feedback for feedback’s sake.

    Also ‘challenge targets’? What are they? A higher level, something they need to ‘learn’?

    • David Didau says:

      Feedback is always used to improve performance – performance is the proxy by which we attempt to measure learning – it is a far from exact science.

      The idea behind delaying & reducing feedback is partly to ensure that it increases the distance between instruction and performance so that it is more likely to result in long term retention.

      As for challenge targets, where did they come from? The phrase is normally used to describe giving a pupils a target grade above the one considered most statistically likely by FFT.

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  18. wendy says:

    If the DIRT time is not properly built into to the lesson planning, and the importance of it shared with pupils then THEIR responses will probably fall short of your expectations. Pupils and teachers also need training in what good feedback looks like and feels like. We use FISHy (Friendly, Informative, Specific and Helpful) feedback based on Austin’s Butterfly and our responses across the school have really improved. It is crucial that the teacher asks the right questions to enable the pupil to give the best feedback which really investigates the learning which has taken place. This is quite different from the questions used to reinforce or correct subject based content. Good feedback will include elements of both.

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