Getting feedback right

14 February 2018

Author: Dr Caroline Creaby, Sandringham Research School Director

Feedback is complicated. Even the evidence base is mixed. On the one hand, it is claimed to have the potential to provide students with eight additional months’ progress (EEF Toolkit) and yet, on the other hand, in one important meta analysis, 38% of feedback experiments had a negative effect on learners (Kluger and DeNisi, 1996). Evidence from schools is also mixed. Talk to any teacher about feedback and, before long, they will mention workload. Talk to any senior leader and they will stress the importance of providing feedback to learners. The Sandringham Research School team were keen to design a training course about feedback in order to get to grips with these crucial issues. Our goal was to help delegates to reflect on and ultimately shape their feedback in order to facilitate learning whilst maintaining a healthy work life balance. In this blog, I share some highlights, insights and some of the research evidence we examined on the first day of our course which began on Friday 2nd February.

At the start of the day, delegates were treated to a keynote from Harry Fletcher-Wood from the Institute for Teaching. Harry is a former teacher, Teach First researcher and is a writer – he blogs at https://improvingteaching.co.uk and has just finished his second book ‘Responsive Teaching’. Harry’s keynote was rich in research evidence, ideas, provocations and practical examples.

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One area that resonated with delegates centred on the pre-conditions for feedback. Harry reminded us that in order to provide meaningful feedback, a worthwhile task needs to be set in the first place and, prior to that, students would need to have had access to a model and a clear goal. Most delegates conceded that potentially too much attention is given to the feedback itself – what it looks like, who gives it, how frequently it is given etc. and not enough attention is paid to designing worthwhile tasks within a curriculum. Plenty of delegates’ comments suggested that this really hit home with them, for example:

‘I think I will focus on planning for effective feedback rather than reacting to what I find in exercise books.’

‘I will look at my schemes of work and develop where and how feedback would be most useful.’

Harry also got us thinking about the feedback we provide to our students and suggested this falls into four levels: feedback about the task, about the subject, about self-regulation and about self-evaluation. If we provide too much specific feedback at the task level, students may struggle to transfer it to future tasks. Harry reminded us of Dylan Wiliam’s comment that the aim of feedback isn’t to change the work, it’s to change the student. And so providing feedback that moves between levels is important in order to enable students to carry feedback forward into future tasks.

This led onto students: how can our feedback be delivered in such a way that they are able to understand it, act on it and take more responsibility? Harry provided a multitude of practical ideas and examples from ensuring that feedback is limited, targeted, standardised, that grades are taken out and that sufficient class time is put into the process. With respect to students managing their own learning, the use of models and checklists resonated with delegates:

 ‘I’m off to standardise our department marking by producing a set of symbols to provide feedback and a checklist for students to use to hopefully address common errors.’

 ‘Our next steps are definitely about looking a how we can build in self-regulation and meta-cognition so our children become more active in the giving and receiving of feedback.’

Having had a rich introduction to the evidence base on feedback from Harry, delegates had opportunities to reflect on their own practice. The self-audit tool from Wiliam and Leahy (2015) gave delegates an opportunity to consider the range of ways they give feedback to their students. The EEF’s ‘A Marked Improvement’ was also helpful and got delegates thinking about whether, despite the limited research evidence, they rely on marked feedback as their main mode of feedback for their students.

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The challenge for us all is how to translate research evidence into practice.  Research can point us to ‘best bets’ and help us understand what has ‘worked’ but not necessarily what will work in our own classrooms. Delegates went on learning walks around Sandringham School to get a snapshot of feedback in action. This provided a helpful stimulus for delegates to discuss the realities of feedback and what their next steps should be back at school. Watching the animated conversations reminded me of how specific approaches will always be subject and context specific.

Another challenge for teachers aiming to become more evidence informed, is how to implement approaches sensibly and sustainably.  Simply adding on ‘another thing’ to our already busy days is unlikely to be an effective change strategy. We considered how to design approaches carefully, how to evaluate new approaches and considered challenges we might face. The EEF’s recent implementation guidance report is an essential read for any teacher or school leader looking to change practice. The Sandringham Reseach School team look forward to meeting the delegates again at our next session to find out how they beginning to shape their feedback.

 

References

EEF. (2015). Feedback. Available from www.educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/toolkit-a-z/feedback/

EEF. (2018). Putting Evidence to Work: A school’s guide to implementation – a guidance report. London: EEF.

Elliott, V. et al. (2016). A Marked Improvement. England: EEF, Oxford University.

Fletcher-Wood, H. (2018). Responsive Teaching: Cognitive science and formative assessment in practice. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis.

Kluger, A. and DeNisi, A. (1996). The Effects of Feedback Interventions on Performance: A Historical Review, a Meta-Analysis, and a Preliminary Feedback Intervention Theory. Psychological Bulletin. 119, pp.254-284.

Wiliam, D. and Leahy, S. (2015). Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical techniques for K-12 classrooms. Florida: Learning Sciences International.

Posted on 14 February 2018
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