Feedback Strategies and How To use them Effectively

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March 11, 2014 by dragonflytraining

Author: Neil Atkin @natkin

Feedback is outlined in Hattie’s Visible Learning as the single biggest factor in improving.

But what is feedback?

“Feedback is a process in which information about the past or the present influences the same phenomenon in the present or future. As part of a chain of cause-and-effect that forms a circuit or loop, the event is said to “feed back” into itself.”

So give our students lots of feedback and they will do better?

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that as feedback has to be appropriate and helpful.

Someone very close to me tried to teach me the piano. It was a nightmare, as soon as I hit a wrong note it was pointed out to me (although I was already aware of my mistake) the feedback was infuriating and I soon gave up.

Is feedback helpful when we know we have messed up? The captain of a football team I played for would give you instant feedback on everything you did, positive or negative until we as a team rebelled and told him to shut up . When you had the ball his shouting ‘don’t lose it’ and the feedback ‘I told you not to lose it, Neil’ was not helpful!’

Similarly I have a neighbour who is the epitome of Harry Enfield’s old character in the mid 90s Mr Dont want to do it like that. The most annoying man on earth dispensing his wisdom of how you should have done it after the event. Even if his views had some validity emotionally I would block him out.

So feedback can be massively annoying and lead to the completely opposite effect that you are trying to create. Whether learning has been improved as well as performance is not made clear from Hattie’s research.

The difference between performance and learning has been outlined by the likes of Alfie Kohn and Robert Bjork. Alfie Kohn has this to say on assessment of learning and giving grades for the full art:

A second rationale for grading — and indeed, one of the major motives behind assessment in general — is to motivate students to work harder so they will receive a favorable evaluation. Unfortunately, this rationale is just as problematic as sorting. Indeed, given the extent to which A’s and F’s function as rewards and punishments rather than as useful feedback, grades are counterproductive regardless of whether they are intentionally used for this purpose. The trouble lies with the implicit assumption that there exists a single entity called “motivation” that students have to a greater or lesser degree. In reality, a critical and qualitative difference exists between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation — between an interest in what one is learning for its own sake, and a mindset in which learning is viewed as a means to an end, the end being to escape a punishment or snag a reward. Not only are these two orientations distinct, but they also often pull in opposite directions.

Scores of studies in social psychology and related fields have demonstrated that extrinsic motivators frequently undermine intrinsic motivation. This may not be particularly surprising in the case of sticks, but it is no less true of carrots. People who are promised rewards for doing something tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to obtain the reward. Studies also show that, contrary to the conventional wisdom in our society, people who have been led to think about what they will receive for engaging in a task (or for doing it well) are apt to do lower quality work than those who are not expecting to get anything at all.

Evidence suggests that when we mark and give grades as well as comments, our students only look at the grades. They become performance orientated rather than thinking about the learning.

Giving feedback too quickly can also have negative effects where we solve the problems for our students before they have time to think about them. Students learn to be dependent on us and we stop them thinking about problems by giving them the answers.

An interesting idea is the Ziegarnik effect  we continue to think about incomplete or interrupted tasks. Evidence suggests we remember things better when they are incomplete (like the solutions to crosswords that pop up into our heads some time later) and can perform better on puzzles when we are not given time to complete them in practice compared to if we have finished them. This appears to be at odds with the ‘three part lesson’ and the idea we tell them what they will do, do it , then discuss what we  have done.


I have a massive issue with ‘failure avoidance’ in students many of whom fixed mind sets. Whatever you think of the work of Carol Dweck I think the principle of taking responsibility for your own successes or failures is sound.

Growth Mindset

There is a terrific blogpost by @LeadingLearner on many aspects of feedback here

I particularly like the concept of F.A.I.L. (First Attempts In Learning), that embeds the idea that work is a draft and can always be improved:



Planning for marking

We Spend hours marking and research suggests that only about 15% of our students read and act on what we suggest. If this is true about 5 of every 6 books are wasted time in terms of having the learner move on.

Stephen Lockyer has written a great blog on marking being broken and what we can do about it. He suggests we use marking as planning rather than the other way round.


Before we start marking it totally makes sense to plan what we are looking for as opposed to just getting on with it. The 5 minute marking plan Devised by @teachertoolkit and @LeadingLearner that is a must for efficiency.

The 5 Minute Marking Plan

These ideas and some other great ones are also contained in @teachertoolkit’s book 100 ideas available here

Consider the above elements about making feedback appropriate before we look at applying any. Like food, there is no such thing as inherently good or bad feedback it’s the way that it is used that is important. We are giving feedback to human beings who are regularly irrational and may not take it in the way that it was intended.

Here are some ideas that you may want to use:

(1) Get the students to think about what they are learning and why and to ask each other, What are you doing? Why are you doing it? How will it help you?

(2) Pose, pause, pounce, bounce. Outlined in a video by Dylan Wiliam here. This can transform your lessons into truly interactive ones.

(3) Post-it notes – students come in and are given a post-it note. Write on it what you know about….

(4) Post -it notes – have a question wall that they put unanswered questions on as they leave.

(5) Post – it notes – questions put on walls – differentiated into challenge, super challenge and hyper challenge. Students choose a question and write the answer on the back and initial. If someone else has answered and they agree they tick and initial. If they disagree, they have to find the other person and argue their case.

(6) If you have three options as in the example below then a nice option is to ask. If you think the last carton to fall over will be the one on your left put your left hand up, for the one on the right your right hand, the one in the middle both hands. Keep your hands up and find someone who disagrees with you and try to come up with an agreement over the right answer. Click here to view a brief video of the exercise.

(7) Traffic lighting with three cones can work well, the students put the red cone on top if they are struggling, amber if they are ok and green if they are happy. This gives a constant indication, though peer pressure can render this next to useless

(8) In group work assign a team rep and have them feedback to you and back to the group.

(9) For your oral feedback get them to write down what you say

(10) Find the common issues and feedback to them before they hand the or books in to mark

(11) Have a green and red box for students to hand their books into (thanks to @mrlockyer) so you can assess their confidence and target the red ones ( or the green but incompetent)

(12) Have a specific time at the start of the lesson when the students respond to your comments from marking. Can use them assessing in pairs

Online walls

Online shared walls like (@padlet ) or http://en.linoit.comarefabulous ways of getting and giving feedback to students. A photo, video, link or PDF can be uploaded to the wall and peer assessed. A further upcoming blog will explain it in more detail


A brilliant cross platform tool that allows either on the fly or pre planned assessment. This means you can instantly gather what your students know at the start and use this to inform your lesson planning.

More information at


This has to be the future of assessment. It allows a dialogue between the teacher and the learner in a text, video or audio format.

And finally having students feedback from thinking skills from a previous blog post

9 Practical Strategies for thinking

Get in the habit of asking “Is thinking visible here?” are thoughts being aired, justified, evaluated? Who is doing the thinking? Using no hands up and Pose Pause Pounce Bounce outlined by @teachertoolkit here is a good way of directing the thinking and adding your own contributions.
Ask “Is the language of thinking being used here (A great overview is given by the ASCD here ) but key words are ; compare, analyse, predict, evaluate, speculate
Are your students asking questions? If not make them ideally use Socratic Questions R.W. Paul’s six types of Socratic questions are an interesting place to start:

1. Questions for clarification:

Why do you say that?
How does this relate to our discussion?
“Are you going to include diffusion in your mole balance equations?”

2. Questions that probe assumptions:

What could we assume instead?
How can you verify or disapprove that assumption?
“Why are neglecting radial diffusion and including only axial diffusion?”

3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence:

What would be an example?
What is….analogous to?
What do you think causes to happen…? Why:?
“Do you think that diffusion is responsible for the lower conversion?”

4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives:

What would be an alternative?
Is there another way to look at it?
Would you explain why it is necessary or beneficial, and who benefits?
Why is ‘x’ the best?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of…?
How are…and …similar?
What is a counterargument for…?
“With all the bends in the pipe, from an industrial/practical standpoint, do you think diffusion will affect the conversion?”

5. Questions that probe implications and consequences:

What generalisations can you make?
What are the consequences of that assumption?
What are you implying?
How does…affect…?
How does…tie in with what we learned before?
“How would our results be affected if neglected diffusion?”

6. Questions about the question:

What was the point of this question?
Why do you think I asked this question?
What does…mean?
How does…apply to everyday life?
“Why do you think diffusion is important?”
Use Thinking Routines. These are summarised from the Harvard Website on Visible Thinking here .

4. Think /Pair /Share – Individuals are given a situation and asked “What is going on here?” “What makes you say that?” Then they are asked to pair up and compare their views with their partner. They are then asked to agree and share with others their thoughts

5. Fairness routine – Given a situation or dilemma. “Who might be affected by this? Who might care? What might their viewpoint be ? (This can also be used in a historical context in taking the prevailing views of the time about slavery, witchcraft etc.)

6. Circle of Viewpoints – Students are asked to put across opposing viewpoints for a dilemma or a decision. The structure is I am thinking … topic … from the point of view of ……. . I think … (give view of that person with a justification) . A question that my view generates is ….. They then do the same for as many characters as appropriate to the task

7. Claim/support/question – A way of structuring ideas . What is your claim? What supports your claim? What may be questioned about your claim?

8. Reporters Notebook – A very powerful technique in this world of political spin this puts things in context for analysis

Identify the story/situation/dilemma
What are the facts? what are the events? ie what do we really know?
What are the thoughts/feelings of the parties?
What more information do you need?
What is your judgement and why?

9. Traffic Lighting – Ideal for analysing newspapers for bias. Using different coloured highlighters

Red – Highlight strong – Sweeping statements, beliefs, feelings, self interest, one sided arguments, uncorroborated claims
Amber – Highlight milder versions of the red claims
Green – Highlight the facts or strongly evidenced claims

I hope you enjoyed this article, even if it is a little long…

If you would like to see me personally, or even attend one of my courses with Dragonfly Training have a look at the website by clicking the link here:


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