Professor Merrilyn Goos from The University of Queensland defines what we mean by ‘feedback for deep learning’.
Feedback is something that tells you if you’re on the right track or not. In a nutshell, feedback is information provided on the performance or understanding of a task which can then be used to improve this performance or understanding. Feedback helps to close the gap between actual performance and intended performance. There are a multitude of different types of feedback and we encounter many of these in our everyday lives.
Feedback can come from a diverse variety of sources as well. Feedback doesn’t need to be formal. In fact, some feedback is very informal and we hardly recognize it for what it is. Feedback has a powerful influence on learning and in particular on deep engagement with content. If we would like our students to have a full understanding of a task and gain skills they can use in the future and transfer to other tasks, then effective feedback on learning is crucial.
For a fuller understanding of the nature of feedback and closing the gap between actual performance and intended performance, we need to explore the different purposes, types, and levels of feedback and ask three important questions:
1) Where am I going?
2) How am I going? and
3) Where to next?
(Hattie & Timperley, 2007).
In exploring the Hattie and Timperley (2007) feedback model and the three feedback questions, van den Bergh, Ros and Beijaard (2012, p. 345) state:
The first question is about the learning goals: ‘Where am I going?’
The second question that has to be answered is: ‘How am I going?’ Learners need to know how the current performance relates to the learning goals.
Finally, learners will ask: ‘Where to next?’ What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?
Conditions of effective feedback
Dr Cameron Brooks from the School of Education at The University of Queensland explores what conditions are important for effective feedback and how powerful effective feedback can be for deep learning.
CAMERON BROOKS: Effective feedback is essential for deep learning. Though, what is often overlooked is the potential for feedback to have variable effects on learning.
The use of feedback is regarded as one of the most powerful strategies to improve student achievement and you may or may not be aware of just how much attention it receives in education policy and practice. As we explore effective feedback, I want you to reflect on ways feedback has influenced you in your own learning journey.
Feedback is typically viewed as information given to the student which is designed to cause modifications of actions and result in learning.
Recently, this cause-and-effect notion of feedback has been challenged as the provision of feedback is no guarantee of learning. Research suggests that much of feedback that is given is in fact rarely used by students. For this reason, we need to focus upon how feedback is being received rather than just how feedback is given. The effects of feedback on learning have been studied by educational and psychological researchers since the early 20th century.
Feedback is typically related with greater academic achievement, improvements in student work, and enhanced student motivation. Further investigation of feedback research, however, reveals that feedback produces highly variable effects upon learning. Numerous variables are identified in feedback literature that affect how feedback is received and used by students. These including the purpose, focus and timing of feedback.
Feedback can serve many different purposes such as to provide: a grade, a justification of a grade, a qualitative description of the work, praise, encouragement, identification of errors, suggestions of how to fix errors and guidance on how to improve the work standard.
- Feedback can be directive and tell students where they went wrong or facilitative and provide guidance on how to improve.
- Feedback that includes elaborations about how to improve is more likely to lead to improvements in learning efficiency and student achievement.
- Improvement based feedback that includes guidance is more effective than statements about whether work is right or wrong as it takes into consideration how feedback is received by learners.
Literature on student perceptions of feedback includes findings that students become frustrated with feedback that is too general or tells them where they went wrong but does not provide guidance on how to improve. Effective feedback tells students how they are doing in relation to goals and criteria and then provides guidance and opportunities for improvement.
Unfortunately, much of feedback that is given in classrooms is directed to the self, rather than to these specific learning elements of tasks. Research directed to the self, most commonly given as praise, has been found to have negative impacts upon learning as it can contribute towards learners developing a mindset that sees achievement as a fixed attribute rather than something to be worked on and improved.
Early, behavioristic feedback models used feedback as a means of reinforcement of behavior with the belief that feedback needs to be immediate to help condition a response. As cognitivist theories emerged, researchers began to investigate the effects of immediate versus delayed feedback upon learning.
Immediate feedback vs. delayed feedback
Immediate feedback is more likely to be effective for the acquisition of verbal, procedural and some motor skills. While immediate feedback is helpful during initial task acquisition, it can negate deeper learning during tasks that encourage fluency and development of skills and understanding.
In fact, delayed feedback can be more effective for difficult tasks due to the benefits associated with learners’ processing and thinking about methods to satisfy task requirements. Therefore, delayed feedback may be beneficial for deeper learning where learning concepts can be transferred from one context to another. This is of course dependent upon the type of task and the developmental capability of the learner.
Four common, key conditions for effective feedback are evident from research:
- Clarifying expectations and standards for the learner.
- Scheduling ongoing, targeted feedback within the learning period.
- Fostering practices to develop self-assessment, and
- Providing feed forward opportunities to close the feedback loop.
Let’s have a look at each of these conditions in more detail.
1. Clarifying expectations and standards for the learner.
Clarifying expectations and standards for the learner is a key prerequisite for effective feedback practice. The clarification of criteria and standards at the beginning of, or at least during the learning cycle, orients learners towards purposeful actions designed to satisfy or even exceed the learning intent or goals.
Feedback pertaining to expectations and standards that arrives at the conclusion of the learning cycle is terminal and of limited value, primarily due to the learner not being given further opportunity to be able to implement the feedback. Feedback has the potential to be increasingly powerful when the task intent and the criteria for success can be matched to challenging learning goals.
Goals are a powerful strategy for focusing the intention of learners on the feedback standard gap, for instance, the difference between where the learner currently is in the learning cycle, and where they need to be at the end of the learning journey. Teachers need to be clear and specific when providing guidance on expectations as students hold different interpretations of the learning intent from their instructors.
An example of an effective strategy for clarifying expectations and standards is the use of exemplars or models. Exemplars are particularly effective as they clearly depict the required standards and enable students to make a direct comparison between their own work and the stated standards of the exemplar. Students also report they value feedback that is matched to the assessment criteria.
Crucially, feedback pertaining to the clarification of the expectations and standards lays the platform for students to monitor their own learning progress, and this is a key facet of self-regulated learning.
2. Scheduling ongoing, targeted feedback within the learning period.
Ongoing, targeted and specific feedback received within the current learning period is more powerful than feedback received after learning.
Hence, formative, rather than summative assessment is a key process for creating opportunities for feedback. Formative assessment provides learners with opportunities to both receive and implement feedback with a view to improving their work. The scheduling of formative assessment check points throughout the learning period gives students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge, understandings and skills.
Formative assessment also provides teachers with an evidence base of how their students are tracking towards achieving the learning intent. By comparing the learning intent and criteria for success with the students’ current learning state (as evidenced within their formative assessment samples), teachers can direct their attention to the gap between where the learner is currently situated and where they need to be. Teachers can then draw upon pedagogical practices such as differentiation and scaffolding to meet the individual needs of learners before the conclusion of the learning period.
3. Fostering practices to develop self-assessment
Self-regulation is a key process within an effective model of feedback for deep learning. Self-regulated learners are cognizant of both the standards and criteria and their own current levels of performance or achievement. To develop self-regulatory behaviors, learners must be regularly engaged in tasks and activities that are matched to the criteria for success and include processes, such as self-assessment, that encourage critical thinking and reflection.
Calibration mechanisms such as self-review, retrieval questions, peer feedback, comparison with models and exemplars all allow students to compare their work against given standards and importantly, identify areas for improvement.
Self-assessment thus forms part of self-regulation where students can direct and monitor actions to achieve the learning intent. Students who develop self-regulatory learning habits become willing and active seekers of feedback.
4. Providing feed forward opportunities to close the feedback loop.
The final condition for effective feedback is the provision of opportunities for students to implement the feedback and close the feedback loop. The closing of the feedback loop is crucial as it requires learners to act on earlier feedback that they have received or self-generated. Often termed feed forward, this highly valued process is often missing from some learning episodes, due to delays in students receiving the feedback or misinterpretation of the feedback content.
Thus, feed forward is heavily reliant on the previously discussed three conditions of effective feedback. When further consideration is given to incrementally increasing task challenge, feed forward opportunities can foster great improvement in learners.
In conclusion, variables such as the purpose, focus and timing of feedback can cause feedback to be received differently by learners. Teachers need to strive to provide conditions for learners where feedback is more likely to be effective. These conditions include, the clarification of expectations, the use of ongoing formative assessment, feedback that is aimed at developing self-regulation and the provision of feed forward opportunities.
In this video below, Dr. Cameron Brooks from the University of Queensland, provides effective feedback, coaching for teachers in Brisbane, Australia. Watch Cameron working with teachers and think about the types of feedback teachers receive.
Click here to watch the video. (8:02 minutes)
In this next video Dr. Cameron Brooks from The University of Queensland, talks about his own model that he has developed for effective feedback. Click here to watch the video (8:41 minutes)
Click here to view and download the Feedback Matrix
Ultimately, learners need to be their own self assessors in order to engage deeply with new content, processes, and skills. Peer- and self-feedback play very important roles in developing the type of self-initiated feedback for essential deep learning.
Dr. Melissa Cain from The University of Queensland explores the many advantages of providing and receiving peer feedback.
MELISSA CAIN: Have you ever been asked to provide feedback to a friend or colleague? Did you find that easy? What concerns did you have? Were you worried that your feedback wouldn’t be welcomed or that it might not be helpful?
Alternative assessment methods such peer assessment are growing in popularity and have been found to receive a more positive response from students than more traditional assessment approaches. Engaging in peer feedback as part of the formative assessment process develops a range of critical thinking skills and is important in developing deep learning competencies.
Stephen Bostock, Head of the Centre for Learning, Teaching and Assessment at Glyndwr University relates that there are many benefits in providing and receiving peer feedback. Engaging in peer feedback gives students a sense of belonging and encourages a sense of ownership in the process.
This type of engagement also helps students recognize assessment criteria; and develops a wide range of transferable skills. Interacting with their peers in this manner provides learners opportunities to problem solve and reflect. It increases a sense of responsibility, promotes independent learning and encourages them to be open to a variety of perspectives. Commenting on the work of peers enables learners to engage with assessment criteria; thus, inducting them into assessment practices and tacit knowledge. Learners are then able to develop an understanding of standards which they can potentially transfer of their own work.
Challenges of peer assessment
There are, however, some challenges surrounding the provision of effective peer feedback. Ryan Daniel, professor of creative arts at James Cook University, suggests that there exists the potential for resistance to peer feedback as it appears to challenge the authority of teachers as experts.
Indeed, students themselves have strong views about the effectiveness of peer assessment methods. This includes an awareness of their own deficiencies in subject areas; not being sure of their own objectivity; the influence of interpersonal factors such as friendship; and the belief that it is not their job but the teachers’ to provide feedback.
Learners may also be cautious of being criticized by their peers and worry about a lack of confidence in their ability to provide effective feedback. Part of this issue relates to the issue of teacher power in the classroom. As this power is usually considered absolute by students, they may in fact, consider their role to please teachers rather than demonstrate their learning in providing feedback. Providing effective peer feedback cannot be a one time event. Learners need to be prepared over time to provide effective feedback.
Spiller (2011) suggests that learners need to be coached using examples and models and should be involved in establishing their own assessment criteria if possible. Teachers should demonstrate how they can match the work of a learner to an exemplar which most closely resembles its qualities. And everyone should engage in rich discussions about the process following the provision of peer feedback. As students become better at providing peer feedback over time, they gain confidence and become more competent at it.
Learning to provide peer feedback has many advantages. Most importantly, when students evaluate their peers’ work and provide timely, specific, and personalized feedback, they have the opportunity to scrutinize their own work as well. And this is a critical factor in deep learning.
Peer Critique: Creating a Culture of Revision
Your students can improve their work by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in the work of others.
Be Kind, Be Specific, Be Helpful
Click here to watch video from Edutopia: (4:32 minutes)
Using Self and Peer Feedback as Assessments for Learning
Click here to watch video on using self and peer feedback as assessments for learning. (2:44 minutes)
- [Edutopia]. (Nov. 1, 2016). Peer Critique: Creating a Culture of Revision. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8FKJPpvreY
- [PERTS]. (Jan. 6, 2016). Using Self and Peer Feedback as Assessments for Learning. [Video File] Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ckrbsigh9E
- UQx: LEARNx Deep Learning through Transformative Pedagogy (2017). University of Queensland, Australia (CC BY NC)