Mathematics and AfL

Clare Lee | View as single page | Feedback/Impact


For learners to change 'do you mean improve/?their trajectory in learning, they must receive task-related feedback from teachers and peers. Feedback within formative assessment not only identifies areas for improvement, but must be provided with a view to enabling learners to make necessary improvements in their work; pertinent feedback is an essential element in promoting learning.

It is Important to use a continuing feedback dialogue as learning tasks progress, where the learners engage in a feedback dialogue with each other in addition to dialogue with their teacher (Torrance and Pryor, 2002) feedback is continually provided which learners can use to improve learning. The most effective process is to incorporate feedback loops within a supportive environment where the teacher knows and shares what knowledge and skills are to be learned, and discusses ways to recognise them, encouraging communication between learners about how work can be improved. Formative feedback is not just written feedback, but it is rather part of a process including such ideas as modelling or an activity that accelerates learning all predicated on the learners being able to understand how to continue to improve their learning (Irons, 2008).

In circumstances where feedback is used in conjunction with a grade, the feedback may be ignored by the learner. Butler (1987) suggests that the quality of the feedback will affect the way that that feedback is used, and that levels/grades and non-targeted praise promotes ego-involved perceptions such as self-worth. Ego-involved feedback is best seen as a side effect of task-related feedback. When a grade or a level is given this can immediately offer the ego a boost, "I am better than others" or it can immediately have a negative effect "I am useless". This is why grades and levels provoke negative reactions in class. Butler (1987) showed that learners who are regularly high attainers and receiving good grades, may focus on ego-enhancing traits, rather than becoming motivated to engage in task-related activities, this may actually harm their potential to continue learning.

Task related feedback for example comments without levels, leaves the ego out of it and directs attention on improving the work. This immediately engages the ego as the comment says loud and clear "you can make this improvement". Pupils who are constantly given negative feedback in the form of grades lose interest as they may no longer perceive their involvement in the activity to be relevant. They often develop a 'learned helplessness' (Dweck 2000) which is a manifestation of the system of giving ego involving grades and levels as it seems to be 'pot luck', pupils think "I tried my best I am just not lucky enough to get a good grade" or I must do exactly what my teacher tells me and keep on checking as I do not and cannot be expected to understand what to do.


  • Dweck,C.S. (2000). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis.
  • Irons, A. (2008). Enhancing Learning Through Formative Assessment and Feedback Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Torrance, H. and Pryor, J. (2002). Investigating Formative Assessment: Teaching, Learning and Assessment in the Classroom. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
  • Butler, R. (1987). Task-involving and Ego-involving Properties of Evaluation: Effect of Different Feedback Conditions on Motivational Perceptions, Interest and Performance, Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(4), 474-482.