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Not All Feedback is Created Equal: IgnitED Research Insight

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Saro Mohammed

The Learning Accelerator

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Welcome to another installment of IgnitED Research Insights, which aim to build stronger connections between learning science and instructional practice.

It seems to be common (and accepted) knowledge that effective feedback is timely and relevant. In other words, receiving a simple grade on a test two weeks after it was given is unlikely to improve learning.

But learning science has also shown that feedback, even when timely and relevant, can still be ineffective, or even harmful.

In this installment of IgnitED Research, we take a closer look at feedback:

  • The tension between giving feedback that is both timely and permanent,
  • How feedback processes can and should include learner-determined feedback, and
  • The importance of creating a safe space for giving and receiving feedback.

Let's Face Facts

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The evidence that timely, relevant feedback supports effective learning has been put into practice for a long time. However, the evidence base has continued to grow and now we understand even more of the nuances (above) that make some types of feedback more effective than others:

  • Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.
  • Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on Formative Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153-198.
  • Yeager, D. S., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., Brzustoski, P., Master, A., . . . Cohen, G. L. (2014). Breaking the cycle of mistrust: Wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divide. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(2), 804-824.

As our understanding of feedback becomes more nuanced, implications for practice also become less cut-and-dry.

“The key question is, does feedback help someone understand what they don't know, what they do know, and where they go? That's when and why feedback is so powerful, but a lot of feedback doesn't — and doesn't have any effect.”
John Hattie, Ph.D.:

“We need to think about feedback as more than a transactional way to tell our students what is correct vs. incorrect, and what needs work vs. what is done well.”
Richard Freishtat, Ph.D.:

“Pair truthful feedback with high standards and support. Tell students the truth about their current performance. But show students that you will support them as they reach for a higher standard.”
David Yeager, Ph.D.:

Hear from a Practitioner

We talked to educator Mike Fauteux, Innovator in Residence at Leadership Public Schools located in California’s Bay Area, about the ways in which feedback has evolved in his classrooms as he learned more about the evidence.

Q: What was the biggest “aha!” moment you had when learning about the evidence regarding feedback?

A: WestEd has built a lot of research on a bunch of ideas actually on formative assessment. They describe a loop that’s very powerful and effective when educators consider all of the components, thinking about the prerequisite knowledge, thinking about success criteria, and trying to root feedback in very clear criteria -- I think that was a big jump for me as an educator. When I was giving feedback before when it wasn’t anchored in a competency or standard, some more specifically really clear criteria for what it would look like if a student was proficient at something, it just didn’t -- it just wasn’t as helpful for students.

I think the other interesting thing about feedback is, of all its dimensions, the most common one that I went to when I first started thinking of it as an educator, is “the feedback I give students as their teacher.” And that was interesting because it wasn’t until a little bit later in my career did I start to realize the value in facilitating peer feedback between students.

Q: What are some of the changes you made in your classrooms based on this evidence?

A: Making sure I consider the forms of feedback I’m giving, and that I vary them so that I thoughtfully combine verbal feedback in the moment, or in one-on-one situations, with an artifact with written feedback that people can look at over time, or maybe I record a quick video and I give that to students so they can process that over longer periods of time.

Q: Is there anything else that you were struck by?

A: Particularly in the last three or four years in my practice at Leadership Public Schools, we’ve done a deep dive on equity and really understanding what it means to bring issues of identity and identity safety to the fore. And not just issues of identity among the students, but also among the faculty and considering our identities and how they interact with the students’, and how that can either make feedback more effective or actually, in the worst case scenario, make that feedback cause harm.

Hear the full interview with Mike Fauteux in this video:

Relevance to Blended & Personalized Learning

Blended or personalized practices in a classroom can support timely, relevant, specific, and safe feedback for student and teacher decision- and meaning-making by:

  • facilitating multiple formats, structures, and processes for giving, receiving and reviewing feedback;
  • giving students opportunities through technology to look at feedback criteria and relevant feedback they received on previous work before tackling a new task;
  • bolstering meaningful identity work through which trusting peer and teacher relationships can be developed to create a safe community in which feedback is given and received.

Learn More

Profile photo of Saro Mohammed

Saro Mohammed

The Learning Accelerator

Saro Mohammed is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator.