Providing effective feedback and closing the loop

Written by: Leann Collingwood | Published:
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Effective feedback is perhaps the most crucial aspect of high-quality teaching and has a real impact on pupil progress. Leann Collingwood offers some strategies for how we can close the feedback loop


The Education Inspection Framework’s outstanding descriptors for effective feedback are as follows: “Teachers provide pupils with incisive feedback, in line with the school’s assessment policy, about what pupils can do to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills. The pupils use this feedback effectively.” (Ofsted 2019)

Ofsted recognises that effective feedback gives students the tools to develop their subject knowledge, which in turn contributes to their success in the classroom and beyond.

However, the ambiguity of this descriptor can leave one mystified as to what constitutes “incisive feedback”, and how this can be included in our daily practice. This article seeks to provide some clarity.


It’s not one-size-fits-all

To begin, Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books and folders will depend on a myriad of factors such as the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils. It also acknowledges that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment.

Contrary to popular belief, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback – these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, catering for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways in order to be effective and efficient in promoting successful learning.

A “one-size-fits-all” approach is not possible, therefore the marking policy should accommodate the needs of both the student and the curriculum. Departments may be able to design their own marking policy to further personalise and tailor the process to suit their subject/s

While Ofsted inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback is used to promote learning, they do not expect to see any written record of feedback provided to pupils by teachers. Nevertheless, keeping such a record of meaningful feedback has many other uses, in addition to its primary purpose of helping us to evaluate student progress.

It is helpful to consider how the feedback we give to students can be recorded in such a way so that it can be shown to inspectors, parents and students. This can be achieved by encouraging pupils to keep a record themselves of both the written (and oral) feedback they have received.


Using feedback in a purposeful way

Effective feedback is paramount to each student’s progress and also promotes independence (and independent learning). However, marking students’ work can become a very tedious and time-consuming process, and unless students respond to feedback in a purposeful way, marking becomes wasteful and students are likely to repeat the same mistakes time and time again, making the whole process even more onerous.

There are various ways to enhance the feedback cycle and “closing the loop” is fundamental to ensuring that marking has a beneficial long-term impact.

As educators, we need to consider what students are doing with assessments after they are marked. Does the assessment just get put away in a folder or book never to be seen again, or are students actively engaging with the feedback given and using it to further enhance their skills and knowledge?


Closing the loop

So, what are the key principles of this process?

  • Pupils need to understand how to improve as a result of written or oral feedback from teachers.
  • Scrutiny of pupils’ work, with particular attention to pupils’ effort and success in completing their work, both in and outside lessons, so that they can progress and enjoy learning across the curriculum.
  • Looking at how pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills have developed and improved as they progress through their education.
  • Considering how teachers’ feedback, written and oral, is used by pupils to improve their knowledge, understanding and skills.

Here follows some practical ways of providing effective feedback:


Questions

When marking students’ work, pose your marking annotations as questions. For example, if something is missing or underdeveloped, writing a question for students to answer is helpful and provides them with structure. When students receive their marked work they can begin answering the questions you have written in a different coloured pen, which in turn helps them to understand the requirements of the assessment and gives them a focus point.

Generic feedback such as “you need to develop on this” or “limited detail given” is unhelpful for students as they may not know how exactly they can improve.

Structuring your marking as clear (possibly numbered) questions allows students to process marking feedback, motivating them to improve. The questions you provide can be differentiated in order to provide both challenge and support to those who need it. In order to close the feedback loop and check that students have absorbed and worked on your feedback, teachers can circulate the class (or if online check in with students using the chat function) and check on the progress being made in addressing any misconceptions.

Using something as simple as a stamp saying “loop closed” can be effective and motivating (for you and the student!).


Tracking sheets

As mentioned, keeping a record of verbal and written feedback has many uses, beyond the ability to monitor student progress. Not only does it allow students to see their progress in assessments over time, but they can also record your feedback from assessments within the tracking sheet and read it back before they complete another assessment with the hope of making improvements each time.

This method gives students attainable targets to focus on for upcoming assessments and should help to improve their grades over time. Additionally, the tracking sheet is useful for teacher observations to show student progress and is also useful for parents to see how their child is progressing in a particular subject.

Finally, students can use the tracking sheet to record the feedback given by their teachers – it is not another job for teachers to complete. By filling in the tracking sheet themselves, students will have ownership and accountability for the whole process (and it will also reduce teacher workload).


Verbal feedback

This method has proved to be very advantageous especially during the pandemic. Studies looking at delayed versus immediate feedback have demonstrated that those given immediate feedback displayed a larger increase in performance than those receiving delayed feedback (Optiz, Ferdinand & Mecklinger, 2011). As a result, we should embed these feedback strategies into our classroom practice. Understandably, this may not always be possible, however in the majority of cases some degree of immediate feedback is possible.

Shorter tests or formative assessments are where immediate feedback can be given directly after completion. Teachers will often know the common mistakes likely to be made in specific assessments or tests before they are marked, allowing us to verbally feedback to students immediately. Students can use a different coloured pen to note down the generic comments. The benefits are three-fold:

  • Immediate feedback improves academic performance as previously discussed.
  • It saves the teacher writing down the same comments time and time again.
  • It promotes ownership of learning in students.

Teachers can also become a verbal mark scheme and students can either attempt to give each question a mark if they feel confident enough, if not they can at the very least make improvements/annotations while the teacher discusses each question.

In turn, the student is able to address and amend misconceptions straight away and the teacher can save time in the marking process as well as gaining reassurance that students have received effective feedback.

It is also useful to introduce examiner reports here if applicable. Examiner reports highlight generic strengths and weaknesses in students’ performance. Introducing students to these in a verbal feedback session allows them to embrace their mistakes and be proud of their achievements.


Conclusion

The implementation of such methods may be time-consuming to begin with but will undoubtedly ensure that student feedback is both incisive and invaluable.

  • Leann Collingwood is head of psychology and sociology and a member of the teaching and learning team at Gordon's School in Woking.


Further information & resources

  • Ofsted: Education Inspection Framework, May 2019: https://bit.ly/3iJEXQ7
  • Opitz, Ferdinand & Mecklinger: Timing matters: the impact of immediate and delayed feedback on artificial language learning, Frontiers in human neuroscience (5, 8), 2011: https://bit.ly/2NC9AMd


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