What does effective student feedback look like? Part 2

Written by: Helen Webb | Published:
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Good feedback can have a significant impact on student progress. In the second part of this two-part article, teacher Helen Webb continues her research review on effective feedback, looking at assessment for learning, peer and self-assessment, the role of marking and the views of Ofsted

In part one of this article (What does effective student feedback look like? Part 1, SecEd, September 8, 2016: http://bit.ly/2cj1W4L), I focused on Professor John Hattie’s three major questions that effective feedback should answer and the four levels of feedback teachers might give. We looked at modelling success and feedback criteria, too. This article continues my review of feedback research.

AfL, peer and self-assessment

“AfL (assessment for learning) is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by students and their teachers to decide where the students are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there” (Rowe 2007).
In their article Inside the Black Box, Black and Wiliam (1998) explain that assessment for learning is based on five key factors:

  • Students are actively involved in their own learning processes.
  • Effective feedback is provided to students.
  • Teaching activities are adapted in a response to assessment results.
  • Students are able to perform self-assessments.
  • The influence of assessment on students’ motivation and self-esteem is recognised.

From this, Black and Wiliam (2009) derived five major strategies worth taking into account when proving feedback to students:

  • Clarifying and sharing learning intentions and criteria for success.
  • Engineering effective classroom discussions and other learning tasks that elicit evidence of student understanding.
  • Providing feedback that moves learners forward.
  • Activating students as instructional resources for one another.
  • Activating students as the owners of their own learning.

Beere (2011), meanwhile, encourages the specific use of “DIRT” (Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time) through assessment for learning. She states that “it is essential to raise awareness of (the learning journey) by frequently reminding students to check their learning process and progress”.

She adds that “high-quality self-assessment and peer-assessment gives learners the ability to discuss and develop their own progress”, saying that “opportunities for peer-assessment are vital in a great lesson”.

She continues: “When an observer sees this happening really well in your classroom it will be because you have built up the skills to do it well over time. This, in turn, provides excellent evidence of the quality of your teaching.”

Beere (2011) also states that “great teaching will also involve training your students to give and take constructive criticism to support each other’s progress. There is clear evidence from research that children teaching and coaching one another aids progress for the giver and receiver”.

If the feedback is formative, getting a range of feedback can enhance a student’s reflections on a task and encourage them to think more deeply about the quality of their work. Nicol (2008) states that “having different readers respond to and comment on an assignment provides multiple opportunities for scaffolding.

“Instead of finding out how one reader responded the student is able to benefit from (the) responses of many, each with a different perspective.”

Nicol (2008) also states that another positive aspect of the peer feedback process is that “students get to see examples other students’ work” which can also deepen understanding of the learning goals.

He adds that a further “benefit is that students will be more receptive to feedback comments when there is agreement across both peers and the teacher”.

A useful self-assessment exercise is to ask students to “rephrase the question in their own words, make a judgement about whether they have met a list of stated criteria (provided by the department), and then estimate the mark they think they will get. This encourages both active reflection by students on their own work but it also provides useful information to teachers about the students’ level of competence and judgement” (Nicol 2008).

In order to develop students’ ability to evaluate their own writing and give teacher guidance about where to focus their comments, McKeackie (2002) drawing on Cambridge (1996) (as cited in Nicol 2008) suggests asking students to “attach three questions about which they would like to know about a written submission or about what aspects they would like to improve”.

It seems extremely beneficial to provide opportunities for students to amend and redraft assignments after receiving feedback comments. However, this opportunity can often be overlooked when the assignment is not deemed important.


Ofsted agrees with the importance of effective feedback. When assessing the quality of teaching Ofsted (2013) has stated that: “The most important role of teaching is to promote learning in order to raise pupils’ achievement. Teaching includes teachers’ lesson planning, the implementation of plans, as well as marking, assessment and feedback. It includes support and intervention strategies.

“(Inspectors) must take account of how well pupils understand how to improve their learning as a result of frequent, detailed and accurate feedback from teachers following assessment of their learning.”

Also according to Ofsted (2013), “when evaluating the quality of teaching in the school, inspectors must consider how successful the teaching is in promoting the learning, progress and personal development for every pupil. (There must be evidence of teachers) using assessment and feedback to support learning and to help pupils know how to improve their work”.

Beere (2011) reiterates this point. She advises that “an observer will expect your students to know and be able to talk about what level or grade they are at and what they need to do to improve. They will expect to see evidence in the work they have produced of focused marking and targets for improvement”.

Marking and feedback

Most would agree with Chapman et al (2011) that “marking is an essential part of teaching and learning”.

They continue: “Responding to students’ work through constructive comment acknowledges achievement, promotes positive attitudes and behaviour and leads to an improvement in standards. Teachers need to follow an agreed system and consistent procedures in responding to students’ work in order to give clear messages to students, parents, and other teachers about individual progress.”

Still according to Chapman et al, effective marking should help you to:

  • Improve learning by bringing to your attention what it is that the students do and don’t understand. Marking helps you to decide which areas of the curriculum you need to revisit or recap the following year.
  • Encourage, motivate, support and promote positive attitudes by rewarding success and correcting errors.
  • Inform your planning. If students are misunderstanding something then that element needs either reteaching or teaching in a different way next year.
  • Promote higher standards by demonstrating what represents a good answer or piece of work.
  • Correct errors and clear up misunderstandings.
  • Recognise achievement, presentation and effort.
  • Provide constructive feedback. For this you need to ensure that your comments are focused on a specific aspect of a student’s work and say how the work could be improved.
  • Show students that we value their efforts.
  • Allow students to reflect on their past performances and set new targets for themselves with the teacher’s help.

However, the biggest problem of all when it comes to marking is time. When workload is high and deadlines are tight, the quality of written feedback we provide to students can be affected.

Nicol (2008) also points out that “students often report that they do not understand written feedback comments and/or they are not sufficiently detailed. Yet teachers feel overburdened by the production of detailed comments which they also feel are repetitive”.

One strategy that can help teachers to limit the volume of feedback that they give to students and hence reduce marking time, yet still allow for detailed and specific high-quality feedback, is to provide “the whole databank of comments on a particular assignment for all students completing that assignment. This would provide a wider context for feedback comments and would allow students to benefit from the comments that others received. Providing a wider databank of comments would allow the students themselves to make their own judgements about which comments are most appropriate” (Nicol 2008).

This can give the students a richer context for understanding their own performance. Using a coding system to target particular comments to individual students is a simple yet effective strategy to deliver feedback to students. Simply, the teacher writes less but the feedback is better: clear, understandable and specific.

  • 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

Helen has collated and reduced this vast amount of research information into a toolkit of usable ideas – or top tips for effective feedback – to help teachers improve their ability to provide high-quality feedback to students. She has also compiled advice on how to use comment banks to reduce your marking workload. This advice will be tackled in further articles for SecEd to be published in the coming weeks, beginning on Thursday, September 22. To read the first article in this series, What does effective student feedback look like? Part 1 (September 8, 2016), go to http://bit.ly/2cj1W4L


  • Beere (2011) The Perfect Ofsted Lesson, Crown House Publishing.
  • Black & Wiliam (2009) Available via: http://bit.ly/2c9rMXE
  • Black & Wiliam (1998) Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment, Phi Delta Kappa International. Available via: http://bit.ly/2c6h3Lz
  • Chapmen, Garnett & Alan (2011) Improving Classroom Performance: Practical applications for effective teaching and learning, Crown House Publishing
  • Nicol & Draper (2008) Redesigning Written Feedback to Students When Class Sizes Are Large. Paper presented at the Improving University Teachers Conference, July 2008, Glasgow.
  • Ofsted (2013) The Evaluation Schedule for Inspecting Non-Association Independent Schools.
  • Rowe (2007) My Top 10 Tips: Assessment for Learning, Teachers, Issue 51: http://bit.ly/2bS8fbe


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