Effective student feedback: Top tips for teachers

Written by: Helen Webb | Published:
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Continuing her series on effective student feedback, Helen Webb uses lessons from her earlier review of research to compile some top tips for teachers

Feedback is continually reported to have significant impact on the progress that students make. Following analysis of more than 900 educational meta-analyses, Professor John Hattie (2012) found that effective feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn.

The Education Endowment Foundation (2013) also reported very high effects of feedback on learning. They indicate that progress could have an impact of half a GCSE grade per student, per subject.

So, what is feedback? According to Wiggins (2012): “Feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. Helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalised); timely; on-going; and consistent.”

Essentially, feedback whether it written or verbal, aims to bridge the gap between prior or current achievement and the success criteria.

Following on from my previous articles in which I reviewed the literature to gain a more detailed understanding of what makes feedback effective (What does effective student feedback look like? Parts 1 & 2, SecEd, September, 2016: http://bit.ly/2cj1W4L and http://bit.ly/2cWFYCD).

I have now summarised this wealth of information into some usable strategies to ensure the feedback we provide to students is usable and enables them to progress more easily.

  • Ensure students know their goal (where they are going) – probably based upon target grades and/or prior performance or specific success criteria.
  • Share success criteria: ask students to rephrase the task or goal in their own words prior to completion. Students can develop their own success criteria by using model answers – including a discussion of different levels of answer. You can also illustrate with a model A* answer and share the mark scheme.
  • Use a variety of teacher, peer and self-assessment strategies.
  • Feedback should be given as soon after the task as possible: immediate written or verbal feedback for error correction is most beneficial. More difficult tasks may benefit from delayed feedback to allow students to process the complexity of the information or task. The start of the lesson or the end of the lesson (if given warning) is the best time to review important work as student attention is greatest at these times.
  • Language should be simple, clear and understandable to students: avoid confusing statements with overly complex or technical language such as “analyse don’t describe”.
  • Feedback should be specific and related to the task or process. Avoid overly simplistic or vague comments such as “make more effort”, “you talk too much” or “you need to write more” etc. Emphasise the instructional aspects of feedback and not just the corrections and try to focus your comments on what has been done well. You can use the rubric or examples of prompts such as those in Visible Learning for Teachers by Prof Hattie (p129/133) to help you differentiate and phrase feedback effectively. Another strategy is to read and select specific advice from examiner and/or moderators reports.
  • Feedback should be owned as it is your perception. Use statements such as “I found that...” rather than bold statements such as “It’s obvious that...”
  • Feedback should “feed forward”. Suggest goals to focus on in future performance of tasks of similar types or provide specific strategies that might be applied. Demonstrate your advice with exemplars. Try asking the learner: “Given the feedback, do you have some ideas about how to improve?”
  • Praise should be related to the task. Avoid the lone use of “well done” or “good”. Always add a mental colon after each statement of value. For example, “Good work: your use of key words was more precise in this question than in the last one.”
  • Use and display a comment bank. Target specific comments at individual students using a coding system (I will write more about this in my next article). Design feedback comments that invite self-evaluation and future self-learning management and allow time for student (and teacher) discussion of feedback.
  • Encourage students’ own evaluative skills. Give students the opportunity to ask a question, e.g. what would they like to know about in order to improve their work? Ask students to rephrase the question in their own words, make a judgement about whether they have met the stated criteria, and estimate the mark they think they will get.
  • Give students opportunity to add to, amend or redraft their work after receiving feedback. Using alternative coloured pens can make any progress by students more evident.

Given the number of different factors that you need to consider when providing effective feedback, I developed the idea of using comment banks to deliver differentiated and individualised written feedback to students in my own classes.

This technique has proven an effective method to provide high-quality feedback to students and has also resulted in a significant reduction in marking workload, with students able to progress more easily.

In my next article I will discuss some ideas to enable you to use this strategy more effectively and give you a few generic feedback statements to get you started.

  • Helen Webb is an experienced science and biology teacher with a professional interest in developing CPD for teachers. She works at Lutterworth College in Leicestershire. You can follow her @helenfwebb

Further articles

This is the third article in this on-going series on effective feedback. The next piece, on using comment banks, will publish on Thursday, September 29. To read the first two pieces, which focused on the research into feedback, and to read the next pieces as they publish, visit http://bit.ly/2cLa6UZ


  • Hattie (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing impact on learning, Taylor & Francis.
  • Higgins, Katsipataki, Kokotsaki, Coleman, Major & Coe (2014) Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit.
  • Wiggins (2012) Seven Keys to Effective Feedback, Educational Leadership. Via http://bit.ly/2bLx5vI


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