Pedagogy focus: feedback and assessment

Feedback and assessment are a major part of teaching. Here’s an introduction to some of the forms feedback takes and how to deliver it effectively

Tes Editorial

A teacher giving feedback

Teacher feedback, just like assessments themselves, can take many forms. 

It can be something as small and simple as a smile, a nod or a "well done" to indicate an appropriate response as evidence of learning and understanding, or it might be more detailed, taking the form of extended written feedback.

Feedback can also indicate levels of learning and student progress by referencing a grade or mark.


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What are the broad forms feedback can take?

The type of feedback offered is often dependent on the method of assessment being used. Generally speaking, assessment can be divided into two broad categories: formative and summative. These categories will often dictate how feedback is delivered. 

Formative assessment

Often referred to as "assessment for learning", formative assessment deals in the day-to-day, ongoing methods of assessment a teacher might use to gauge what has been learnt. 

The feedback is often quick and continuous (like the assessment itself) and may be made up of non-verbal cues, short phrases of praise, or questions and prompts that tease out or guide students in their learning. 

Planning can instantly be adjusted as a result, and interventions can be put in place where necessary. 

More on formative assessment 

Summative assessment

Summative assessment, on the other hand, provides a final assessment of what has been learnt over a period of time (an "assessment of learning") and usually involves feeding back a mark or grade to students that can be shared with staff and possibly even parents or carers. 

In order to help students make sense of their grades or marks, feedback in response to summative assessment tends to come with written comments outlining what was successful about the work produced, in relation to success criteria or goals set out prior to the assessment, and what students can do in order to make further progress. 

What does effective teacher feedback look like?

It is feedback, rather than the assessment "task", that is the key to unlocking new learning. 

Ultimately, good feedback should be about what pupils have done well and what they can do to improve. 

Explicit criticism of a student’s work or response is not useful feedback, as it will most likely lead to negative reactions and a decline in motivation. 

Instead, teachers should focus first on students' achievements and then, where appropriate, offer steps or prompts for improvement and development. This might be done informally through verbal interactions or more explicitly via written comments.  

Feedback also needs to be specific and should, where possible, be linked to particular goals or criteria set out for students. Phrases such as "good work" or "well done", while encouraging, do not offer valuable feedback. 

The comments that really have an impact on learning are related to how students’ work or understanding measures up to expected outcomes. These comments help students to see where they are in terms of their learning and what they need to replicate or retain. 

Equally, targets offered to aid development (again, be it through verbal interactions or more extended responses) need to be clear and actionable. Vague instructions to "write more" or "develop further" do not indicate a skill or specific area that students can work on. 

Instead, learners are often left frustrated and still in the dark about what the "right" answer or approach is, while teachers are equally frustrated when they find themselves having to say or write the same thing the next time they feed back to the class or individual student. 

Finally, knowing the students is vital for providing personalised and effective feedback. This means that teachers can tailor their approach to a student’s individual way of working or be informed by an awareness of their needs and usual areas for development. 

Knowing how a student will respond to advice and what might have a negative impact on their confidence and performance will ensure that feedback is taken in the supportive manner that it is intended.

How often is feedback given?

You will often hear teachers talking about feedback being "timely". This means that feedback should come as soon as possible after an assessment has taken place. 

This is much easier when feedback is given in response to quick formative assessments in class, but might be more difficult for larger summative assessments (especially when there are 30 or more students in a class). 

Written feedback undoubtedly takes more time to deliver, and making a judgement regarding a mark or grade takes even more time still.

It is worth noting that if a school has a particular marking policy, then more formal, extended feedback will probably fall in line with this. 

There is no set amount of written feedback (or indeed verbal feedback) that all teachers are expected to deliver, but individual schools or departments will usually insist on a minimum requirement that reflects the standards they deem appropriate. 

Often teachers will use such policies as a guide for setting summative assessments and plan time for generating effective feedback accordingly.  

The important thing is that time is given over to not only the construction of meaningful feedback, but also to the understanding and use of it. 

Students need time to digest comments, reflect upon what they are being advised to amend or add, and, ultimately, be given the chance to make such developments and improvements. 

Feedback is an ongoing and continuous process. Sharing students' successes with them, along with instructions for next steps is something that filters into every lesson and informs not only teacher planning and intervention, but also student approaches to learning. 

Regardless of how it is delivered, teacher feedback has the potential to facilitate important educational dialogue between students and teachers, helping to build relationships and ensuring that learning takes place.

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