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What student feedback is and isn’t

What feedback is and isn't

When you examine John Hattie’s research on factors that have the largest impact on student achievement, you will see that feedback is in the top ten. This is not a surprise to educators. We know how important feedback is to help guide student learning, but why does feedback seem to be incredibly impactful sometimes, but make no significant difference other times?

Let’s begin by establishing what feedback is and what it isn’t. Often, when we provide comments for students, we believe we have provided them with feedback. However, telling a student that they are doing a great job so far, or that they earned an 89% is not feedback. Feedback is defined as information provided to learners regarding their performance toward specific goals. It is not evaluative or judgmental; it is neutral and it reduces the gap between what learners currently understand and what they need to understand.

Feedback can be delivered in a number of ways, including through conversations that take place in real time. It can also be captured as a voice or video recording, and then shared with the recipient. And it doesn’t always have to come from teachers. In fact, peer feedback can have an enormous positive effect on learning. Although, it takes time to help students learn how to give constructive criticism.

In addition to being tied to a goal, feedback should always be timely, actionable, and user-friendly. Consider the following scenario. Johnny and Jenny are both taking a 10th grade English class, but with two different teachers. Both students have been assigned the task of writing a research paper.

Johnny’s teacher provided the class with all of the requirements upfront and then gave students two weeks to complete a rough draft. The students in this class did not receive any feedback until after they received their rough drafts back from the teacher. This was approximately 3 weeks after they began the research paper.

Jenny’s teacher provided her class with all of requirements up front as well, but students were provided with feedback along the way and given time to make adjustments to their papers before moving on to the next step. Each student also had a partner who was responsible for providing them with comments as they worked.

As you can probably imagine, Johnny and the students in his class were not terribly motivated to act on the feedback they received because it was not given to them in a timely manner. It was also overwhelming to receive so much at once, which made it difficult to even know where to begin.

Providing feedback is one of the most time consuming aspects of teaching and because of the potential impact it has on student achievement, its importance cannot be overstated. In the second part of this post, we will examine a variety of ways that technology can assist us with this enormous task.

This post is part 1 in a 2 part series, you can read part 2, “How technology helps with learner feedback” here.

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