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Formative feedback strategies every teacher should know about

Explore the benefits of formative feedback and strategies to start using in the K-12 classroom.
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What are the benefits of formative feedback and assessment? It is a bit like driving through a congested city at rush hour using an app that updates in real time. You can make adjustments to your route based on vital information about traffic or road closures. 

Similarly, formative feedback gives learners vital information on what they’re doing in the moment that keeps them on track. One benefit of formative feedback is helping teachers build positive working relationships with students in a digital environment. 

What is formative feedback?

Formative feedback is a process. It’s based on timely bits of information that guide students in the midst of their learning process. While doing an assignment, the student receives and uses this feedback to make real-time shifts in their learning trajectory. 

Formative feedback involves multiple feedback-learning cycles that are informally assessed for a given assignment. These low-stakes cycles translate to increased opportunities for growth and learning.

For contrast, let’s return to the congested rush hour example. The summative assessment process would be similar to getting on an expressway after a nice guy at a convenience store tells you it goes to your destination.

Room for error is higher when students only get one high-stakes assessment upon completing a course or unit. With formative feedback, learners are more likely to clear up misunderstandings and meet their goals.

Exploring the benefits of formative feedback

How do students benefit from formative feedback? Getting the right formative feedback to students as they need it helps them deepen their learning and master the material they’re studying. The benefits of formative feedback include deeper trust between learner and educator. This leads to more effective instruction. 

Having timely feedback is a structure that allows learners to gain awareness of gaps in their knowledge and understand areas for improvement. Educators can then point them to support resources. Students may also shift or adapt learning strategies to meet their desired outcomes. Without formative feedback, students may not recognize material they’re not understanding, fall behind and eventually lose motivation.

Research has shown significantly higher academic achievement levels for learners belonging to groups where formative assessment practices were used as opposed to not. These learners also expressed more positive feelings toward the class compared to learners in the control group that didn’t experience formative feedback. Increasing achievement with formative feedback strategies may also be more effective and less costly than reducing class sizes or strengthening educator content knowledge, as suggested in earlier studies by Wiliam and Thompson.

Three things educators want to know about their learners

How do we help students see for themselves where more effort is needed in order to achieve their learning objectives? Answering the following questions is the first step in helping educators initiate effective formative assessment feedback strategies.

  1. Where do each of my students excel and where do they need extra support?
  2. How do they respond to different kinds of feedback? 
  3. What does a learner aspire to, academically and otherwise?

Six strategies for providing feedback to learners

Each learner is different, so knowing students personally is an important foundation to effectively supporting their learning. This will help you the most out of these six formative feedback strategies.  

Include learners in feedback activities 

Learners need to feel safe in giving and receiving feedback. Their learning also benefits when they understand how to give feedback to others. Train them to give each other constructive feedback in a way that is appropriate and helpful. 

Provide a model or example

Communicate with your learners about what you are looking for and the purpose of the assessment or feedback you are giving. This could be an actual example of what a completed assignment looks like. You may provide different examples for contrast.

Focus on specific criteria and skill areas 

Keep feedback focused and specific. Vague and generalized feedback is hard for learners to use and can lead to feelings of frustration. Ensure that formative feedback is specific and useful in helping the student make progress.

Build bridges back to learning 

Guide learners in how the feedback relates back to their process and what they are learning. Sometimes this means simplifying it or going back to basics. For example, it is common in higher education for instructors to assume prior knowledge or skills that learners may not have yet. The same can happen in K-12, so it’s important to tie the feedback to the learning content.

Give feedback aimed to stimulate thinking 

Focus on feedback that encourages students to think through their learning and figure problems out. Ask open questions to stimulate student thinking. Simply correcting or annotating errors is not likely to deepen the learning because the student doesn’t have to think or take action. Acting on feedback is how the real learning takes place. 

Check the adequacy of your feedback

Make sure the feedback is adequate to help the learner move ahead with the work at hand. This often involves ongoing dialogue between the educator and learner. Finally, ensure that the formative feedback and formative assessment are well aligned with one another.

Building formative feedback groundwork

Build the groundwork for the above strategies with these foundational basics. 

Develop a culture of feedback

Create a culture of feedback in your classroom. This is especially important in a digital environment where the tone of feedback could be misconstrued. It’s helpful to begin to build the culture face-to-face or via video to give learners the benefit of facial cues and voice intonation.

As mentioned, modeling gives learners a clear example of what feedback should look like or sound like. Demonstrate how to give non-evaluative and respectful feedback. Help them focus on what their peers are doing right. If appropriate, discuss how learners interpret and receive feedback depending on your criteria. Then give them opportunities to practice giving each other feedback. 

Set up transparent rubrics and grading criteria that everyone understands. Be sure to build in time to discuss and clarify.

Give personalized and timely feedback

Personalize feedback so that it’s relevant and connected to who the student is as well as their goals.

Giving timely feedback to learners as they work is easy with Hāpara tools. For example, in Hāpara Teacher Dashboard, educators can quickly access learners’ Google Drive assignments, making it easier to provide learners with feedback on a consistent basis. 

With Hāpara Highlights, educators are able to send a short, instant message to individual learners, a group or the class about their browsing decisions. Feedback can be given in the moment which can help keep students on track, clear up misconceptions and provide encouragement. To illustrate and further clarify comments, the Snap feature in Highlights allows educators to include an image of what a learner is working on.

Structure time so formative feedback is successful

Give learners the time needed to integrate feedback and apply it. The space to assimilate and process new learning is critical to building lifelong learning aptitudes.

Structure assignments carefully as well. For instance, break more extensive tasks and projects into stages. Also, plan ahead to ensure that you provide learners the feedback essential to their successful navigation of subsequent stages.

Four types of formative assessment

Here are four popular types of formative assessment. 


A quiz provides quick data about student learning and understanding to help educators tailor future lessons.

Exit slips 

Exit slips allow students to respond to a question before they exit the classroom. This type of formative assessment focuses on a specific targeted goal. Educators can then address any learning gaps in the subsequent class.

KWL Charts 

KWL Charts help organize a students’ prior and newly developed knowledge about a topic. Students write what they know (K), what they want to learn (W), and what they’ve learned (L).

S.O.S assessments 

Statement, Opinion, Support assessments give learners a space to share and back up their reasoning. It showcases their understanding of a new topic while supporting them in accessing prior knowledge.

How formative feedback improves instruction

Shifting the relationship dynamics between educator and learner is the underlying way formative feedback improves instruction. Feedback is much more fine-tuned to the real-time needs of a learner.

Instead of directing, educators guide and support learners. Teaching becomes agile and responsive to learners’ needs. Effort goes where it is needed and educators feel more effective, because they are. This builds teacher confidence, a key component of a positive learning experience.

Explore how an educator uses Hāpara Highlights as a coaching tool for social and emotional learning in her classroom.

Developing a classroom culture of resilience with Hāpara Highlights mockup small

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