Assessment: formative and classroom-based

Nikki Booth | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Providing feedback to move teaching and learning forward

Feedback is key for reducing the gap between where the learner currently is to the desired outcome. It is, therefore, a central part of the formative assessment process. The important point, however, is that it is not only the giving of feedback which improves learning, but that the feedback received is acted upon by the learner and/or the teacher.

Feedback can be oral or written. Some researchers (for example, Hattie and Clarke) believe that in-lesson feedback is particularly beneficial because ‘[a]nything which happens after the lesson has questionable value compared to what happens in the moment’ (2019: 123). That said, there is also evidence (for example, Bjork and Bjork, 1992) to suggest that slightly delayed feedback is, perhaps, more beneficial because it is more impactful for longer-term learning through creating desirable difficulties. In other words, when feedback is delayed a little it is probably at a point when students are starting to forget what they had learned. This, however, can be good; it helps to increase a learner’s retrieval strength (how accessible, or retrievable information is) and storage strength (how well learned something is). Whilst research and researchers may have different viewpoints regarding when to give feedback, the important point is not to favour one method of feedback over another; they both have an important role within the formative assessment process.

Although feedback can be considered to improve learning, Kluger and DiNisi (1996) conducted a meta-analysis which found that some types of feedback (approximately one-third of the studies included) can actually lower student achievement, particularly when the feedback is focused on the person rather than the task. Similarly, approximately one-third of the studies included in the meta-analysis made no difference on pupil outcomes at all. The remaining studies showed that when students are given feedback which is focused on specific aspects of the task, or gives clear guidance on how to improve, students’ outcomes improved.

The notion of quality in feedback is shown by Elawar and Corno (1985) in their research on mathematics homework. One group (experimental group) of students received detailed comments on any mistakes they made, suggestions on how to improve, and at least one positive comment. A second group of students was split into two sub-groups. One sub-group (experimental group) received constructive feedback, and the other sub-group (control group) received just scores. A third group (control group) received their usual form of feedback – receiving just scores. Their research found that students who received constructive feedback learned twice as much as those in the control groups. Furthermore, it was also found that the gender gaps between boys and girls reduced, as well as a more positive attitude towards learning mathematics.

In addition to the research cited above, there are several strategies as to how feedback can be made more impactful in the classroom which also support teacher workload:

  • Oral group feedback: when the teacher would notice a common misconception among students, they would stop groups of students to explain further, perhaps detailing the thinking process through the use of scaffolded model examples.

  • Whole class feedback: when would share feedback with the whole class including class strengths and areas for development.

  • Feedback to the teacher: when the teacher uses the information gathered about students’ learning to make decisions about where learning is heading next.  

More information and examples can be found in Booth (2019), Wiliam (2018a, 2018b), and Wiliam and Leahy (2015).