Giving effective feedback is one of the most powerful things that teachers can do to influence students’ performance. Tom Booth has been working for Cambridge Assessment for the past 12 years. He works on digital products that bring together learning and assessment. This is the second part of our conversation around assessment. This time, we talked to him about what constitutes effective feedback and we explored some digital tools that provide interactive feedback.
While giving feedback is one of the teacher’s actions that can have a greater impact in learning, not all feedback is effective. Some advice on good practices to take into consideration:
1. Make it actionable
This means providing feedback that students can act upon, which can be done by focusing on how the learners completed the task and how they might do it better next time rather than focusing on the students themselves. This will help learners realise that their current level of communicative competence is not fixed, they can keep improving, and will develop a sense of self-efficacy. As can be appreciated in this article by Hattie and Temperley, effective feedback should take into consideration the learner’s goals, where they presently are in connection with those goals, and where they are going next.
2. Be careful about praise and grades as part of feedback
Praise and grades can draw the learners’ attention away from the task and towards themselves as a person. Research suggests that even if teachers give good detailed feedback, when it is accompanied by grades, learners fail to focus on the detailed feedback and it can create the idea of a fixed ability in them. This is discussed in detail in this study about different sources of feedback. Consequently, it is advisable to provide detailed feedback separately to the grades for it to have a greater effect.
3. View feedback as an interaction
Consider the learner an active participant in the process. Learners are not recipients of feedback, but parties with prior knowledge who are leading their learning process instead.
Different students will respond to feedback in different ways. If feedback is actionable, the way they act upon it will depend on the student. As a teacher, you know your students well, you can use that knowledge to help decide what feedback might have the best impact.
Feedback is much broader than error correction. However, error correction can be a good source of examples to illustrate the previous point: two students may make the same error while doing the same piece of work, but your error correction may be different depending on the learner’s characteristics and process. For one of the learners the error might be a slip related with a grammar structure they have recently acquired (where they are coming from) and an opportunity to self-correct is probably a good strategy, whereas for the other learner the structure might be above their current level so you might just ignore it and focus your feedback on where they are at the moment.
Their language goals should also influence feedback. Students who want to learn English to use it in business contexts have different needs to the ones who study it for academic purposes. Feedback should take into consideration the way they will be using the language. You can ask yourself if there are specific aspects of their work that will need to be better for the context where this specific learner hopes to use English and adjust your feedback to that.
4. Create the conditions for effective feedback in remote teaching
These notions help us understand and implement good practices that apply to all contexts. However, in remote teaching scenarios it can be challenging to create the conditions to understand learners’ individual needs (where they are, where they are going, their learning goals) and differentiate feedback accordingly, so it is important to implement strategies that will allow for this to happen. This is especially difficult when all interaction happens in lockstep as is the case in contexts in which all learners share the physical space while the teacher connects through videoconference.
This article deals with alternatives to lockstep teacher-led feedback with lots of ideas which were designed for the face-to-face classroom but can easily be adapted for remote lessons.
Digital tools that provide interactive feedback
There are a number of digital tools that provide automatic interactive feedback. We need to be strategic when selecting them. Tom mentioned two that invite learners to engage in an interactive feedback loop in which they self-correct rather than just being given the correct answers:
This Cambridge tool doesn’t make corrections, but it highlights errors and asks learners to make improvements themselves and resubmit their work. This way, the student is the one in charge of taking action on received feedback.
Lingvist is focussed on vocabulary with lots of small gap fill tasks. The feedback it provides is also interesting in terms of interaction. If a learner gets something wrong, the right answer is shown. With other typical tools, this would usually be the end of the activity, but in Lingvist, the right answer disappears and the learner has to type it in the gap.
Both tools are shown in the video above. The way these digital learning products give feedback and how learners interact with it is one lens we can use when evaluating products or tools.
Other digital tools that teachers can use to provide feedback themselves are discussed here.
To sum up, feedback is a key teaching aspect with great potential to positively impact students’ learning process. Teachers make lots of decisions in connection to it on a daily basis that can take into consideration the discussion above to make feedback more effective.
Stay tuned for our upcoming conversation with Oliver Sandon that will dig deeper into effective feedback in remote teaching.