Principles of Effective Feedback to Learners

By Zafar Iqbal

 Black and William’ (1990) findings provide two fundamental principles for effective and active feedback: Medals and Missions.  The effective feedback should provide positive information about student performance which is called ‘medals’ while ‘missions’ are details of information about student’s weaknesses, suggestions for remedial actions or some key points which may help him/her to  achieve their desired grade. Interpreting these findings, Clark et al. (2011) reinforce that effective feedback (formative or summative) should:

  • Provide clear learning intentions and success criteria.
  • Highlight success and indicate one or two instances where improvement could take place (in other words, missions and medals).
  • Provide sufficient time to take place to assess learners or reading assessor’s comments.
  • Expect some focused improvement to take place, based on the feedback.
  • Make effective use of time spent in providing verbal and written feedback.

Nevertheless, accomplishment or application of these principles and values of effective and functional feedback demands some practical considerations from the assessors in the ‘delivery’ of the assessment process.  Building effective communication between student and learners is important for effective feedback. The assessors also need to ensure that their comments are understood by learners clearly. It is common that teacher’s handwriting is difficult to read. So, the assessor should ensure that their comments are readable.

Furthermore, it is possible that learners do not understand some key words in the written feedback. In such cases, it is helpful to arrange a one-to-one session with learners to provide further explanation to them. For instance, educators and tutors may arrange additional sessions to provide students further explanation of written feedback, which can help them to produce better work. This gives them an opportunity to avail additional support as compared to those who only receive written feedback. Similar explanations could be provided through email, Moodle (VLE) and intranet.

Using feedback for further improvement

Feedback should be used for future improvement both from learners and teacher perspective. Teachers should incorporate the outcomes of feedbacks while planning individual and collective development.  The language, structure and presentation of the assessment tools should be simple and learner-friendly. The complexity of a feedback form or rubrics should be avoided as it may create confusions among learners about work. For example, Edexcel feedback Proforma is relatively challenging for some students due to complications in its columns about passing criteria. In this context the tutors and educators should provide a verbal explanation about the pass, merit or distinction descriptors to students, which can help them to understand what they are expected to achieve these goals.

Feedback and target setting

Goal oriented feedback has positive implications for learner’s performance. Explicit learning goals encourage motivation and student involvement in the learning.  When learners work on the tasks they can compare their performance with their targets and meeting with the required pace of the progress raise motivation and sustain self- efficacy (Schunk, 2009) which is further enhanced when learners attain their goals, as well as their motivation to set and pursue new goals.

In the goal setting process, the weaknesses of learners are discussed and ways forward are negotiated. The practice helps them to modify their ideas, rectify errors and achieve target leading to turn them into smart learners. As Black and William (Ibid) observations recommend that better knowledge and learning intention help learners to achieve high motivation and adopt a task oriented approach in their learning. In this context, additional knowledge of learning objectives becomes driving force for them to self-regulate, monitor and manage their progress journey.

Principles of Target setting

Clear communication, mutual understanding and agreement are the heart of effective target setting where learners take responsibility for their learning. It helps students   to make a clear understanding of the actions needed for better performance. It also helps teachers   to remodel their teaching strategies to meet the learner needs and agreed goals.

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