Characteristics of Effective Feedback
Brookhart, S. (2008) How to give effective feedback to your students. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
This book, written with classroom teachers as a primary audience, summarizes the research on feedback and delineates the many ways feedback can vary: Feedback varies in timing, amount, mode, audience, focus, comparison, function, valence, clarity, and specificity. The book focuses on practical examples of how to provide written feedback and oral feedback and how to help students use feedback. Its research section offers an accessible starting place to enrich one’s conceptual understanding of the role of feedback in formative assessment.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Education Research, 77, 81-112.
This article synthesizes 12 previously reported meta-analyses of feedback, covering 196 studies, on the effect of feedback on student achievement. They found that feedback garners an average effect size of 0.79, substantiating it as a strong instructional method. The authors organize feedback into four categories: feedback directed at the task, the processing of the task, self-regulation, and the student as an individual. They find that feedback aimed at the task, processing, and self-regulation are generally beneficial and that assessment should offer a balance of feedback across these levels. Feedback directed at the self level, however, is the least effective. The most common feedback in the classroom, their research finds, targets feedback at the self and task levels.
This Project used a synopsis of the full study created by the Center on Instruction, which is available online.
Kluger, A.N., & DeNisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: a historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254-284.
This is a dense, technical article analyzing 131 studies on feedback whose findings we often summarized, but did not share in full. A key takeaway from the analysis is that on the balance, feedback has a positive impact on student learning (effect size 0.38), but four times out of ten feedback affects student learning negatively. The authors uncover that feedback harms achievement when it focuses on one’s self-esteem or self-image.
Ramaprasad, A. (1983). On the definition of feedback. Behavioral Science, 28, 4-13.
In this seminal article, Ramaprasad conceptualizes the idea of the “gap” between a student’s actual and desired level of understanding, now prevalent in the formative assessment framework of Margaret Heritage. The notion of using feedback to close the gap between current and desired performance is central to formative assessment models offered by Black and Wiliam or Heritage. Feedback is information on the gap “that is used to alter the gap.” Ramprasad’s crucial distinction is that information, such as a grade or score or insight, if “merely stored without being utilized to alter the gap, it is not feedback.”
The article supports an aphorism favored among participants in the Project: “It’s not formative until something gets formed by it.”
Brookhart, S. M. (2008). Feedback that fits. Educational Leadership, 65(4), 54-59.
This article describes the conceptual differences between effective and ineffective feedback for students. It then offers practical examples of effective and ineffective feedback along with practical tips for teachers on making feedback helpful to students.
Wiliam, D. (1999). Formative assessment in mathematics, part 2: feedback. Equals: Mathematics and Special Educational Needs. 5(3) 8-11.
This examination of several primary studies reveals that the attributes of effective feedback are not always intuitive. Giving students only comments on their work without grades was associated in one study with an increase in student learning; assigning grades in conjunction with comments, however, completely nullified the benefits of the comments. “In other words, if you are going to grade or mark a piece of work, you are wasting your time writing careful diagnostic comments,” summarizes Wiliam.
He highlights other non-intuitive findings: the best teachers praise less frequently than other teachers; more feedback is not necessarily better; forty-percent of the time feedback actually hampers learning (that is when it is ego-involving). Wiliam emphasizes that effective feedback helps student see ability as incremental and controllable rather than static and fixed. He concludes that “feedback to learners should focus on what they need to do to improve, rather than on how well they have done, and should avoid comparison with others” and “lead all students to believe that ability – even in mathematics – is incremental.” Math coaches in the Project relied heavily on this article.