Feedback In the Moment: Using Feedback to Improve Student Learning

person explaining in front of a laptop

Written by Bruce Billings

Bruce. B. Billings is an English Teacher and Writer based in the USA.

4th February 2020

Teachers are constantly on the lookout for teaching strategies that produce the best outcomes for their students. There are a variety of time tested, data-driven techniques that teachers can rely on, but it can take time to properly implement these techniques into the classroom. One technique that has a profound effect on students, and can be easily implemented today, is feedback.

Proper classroom feedback is a practical and productive way for teachers to improve their habits, to create more engaging classrooms, and better learners. As I’ve implemented feedback techniques into my own classroom, I’ve been encouraged to see how positively my students respond to criticism and how they use that feedback to improve their own learning.

So What is Feedback and Why Is It Important?

Feedback is more than just grading. It’s taking the time to address student misconceptions and guide student-learning in a personal and practical way. Often, teachers expect graded work to speak for itself, but in reality that just doesn’t happen. Expecting students to learn from their mistakes after the assignment is already put into the gradebook does not impact student outcomes in an effective way. However, feedback that is delivered during student-learning can have a significant positive effect. In fact, according to John Hattie’s meta-analysis, feedback has an effect size of 0.7 (Anything above 0.4 is considered an above average outcome).

Feedback Techniques to Improve Student Outcomes

Feedback can come in a variety of forms. It can come from the teacher, the student, student peers or even technology. The most important thing to consider when implementing feedback is to find ways to provide feedback in the moment. It is clear that good feedback delivered during the learning process produces the best results.

It’s also important for teachers to create a classroom culture that understands feedback. Students should know that feedback is a tool to help them better understand the learning content and to help them improve their academic skills. Teachers can do this by fostering an environment that emphasises a growth-mindset and the collaborative process of learning.

1. Teacher-Driven Feedback

Teachers love to see the “Aha!” moments, when the light bulb goes on and students shine with confidence and pride at learning something difficult. However, these moments rarely occur when a student is simply looking at graded work. They may briefly glance at the notes you wrote next to the grade, but the moment for learning has already passed. It’s essential for educators to understand that learning occurs in the moment. Instead of saving your feedback for the end product, provide feedback during the learning process. Here are some tips for how to make this happen:

  • Circulate the Room – When students are working on a learning objective, whether in groups or independently, it’s important to take the time to circulate around the room. Go from each student or each group, observe the students as they go about completing their tasks, look for mistakes or misconceptions, and then address those errors in the moment. This is a great time to introduce mini-lessons that address student needs. 
  • Use Questions to Guide Student Thinking – When providing feedback, it’s always important to guide student thinking. To do this, teachers must become experts in the art of questioning. The goal is to have students discover their own solutions based on previous learning. To do this, be sure to ask questions that push students to access prior knowledge:
    • What have you learned so far?
    • What are your next steps?
    • How do you think you could improve . . . ?
    • What do you mean by . . . ?
    • Can you give an example of . . . ?

Female Teacher helping young student

2. Student-Driven Feedback

Students can also be responsible for providing their own feedback. In fact, one goal of education should be to develop students’ self-critique skills. Students who can identify their own errors and think critically about how to improve on their learning will be life-long learners. As teachers, it’s important for us to foster self-critique in our classrooms by providing students opportunities to practice this type of thinking. Here’s some ideas on how to implement student-driven feedback:

  • Introduce Rubrics Before an Assignment is Given – When students understand the success criteria for any given assignment, they are in a better position to produce higher-quality work. Providing students with rubrics before they begin the assignment will help them better understand what is expected of them. It also provides a great point-of-reference for teachers as they provide “in-the-moment” feedback.
  • Provide Exemplars – A lot of what we teach is quite abstract. It’s important that we provide students with exemplars that show students what successful learning looks like. Whether it be argumentative essays or geometric proofs, students need to know what the end product should look like. Teachers who provide quality exemplars and even model the process of learning give their students a tangible blueprint for what student work should look like.
3. Peer-Driven Feedback

Feedback doesn’t have to come from the teacher alone. Feedback can easily become part of the classroom culture. When students are providing feedback to each other, not only does that alleviate some pressure from the teacher, but each individual student will receive personalised feedback on their work. In order to successively implement class-driven feedback, it’s important for the teacher to take the time to teach the students how to properly give and receive feedback from one another. Here are some suggestions on how to foster peer-driven feedback in your classroom:

  • Create a System of Peer Review – Peer reviews can be a powerful way for students to engage with learning tasks. Not only will students be given individualised feedback from another student, but students will encounter other exemplars from their peers.
  • Provide Students with Oral Feedback Question Stems – A quick peer conversation is another great way for students to think about their learning. However, teachers know how quickly student-led conversations can devolve into unproductive social time. It’s important for teachers to prepare their students for academic conversations. Providing question stems to guide student conversations will help students stay on task during this peer-driven feedback.

 

Student smiling

4. Tech-Based Feedback

Another great tool that helps students learn from their mistakes is tech-based feedback. As the classroom evolves in the 21st century, the digital resources that are available to teachers can play a pivotal role in providing each student with a personalised learning experience. Here’s how teachers can ensure tech-based feedback is used effectively:

  • Use Programs that Provide Corrective Feedback in the Moment – It’s important for teachers to choose online learning programs that not only provide correct responses, but also attempts to reteach skills and concepts once a question is marked as wrong. This will help students avoid retaining incorrect information as they go about the learning process.
  • Set an Intention – Just because a tech-based program offers corrective feedback, it doesn’t mean students will know how to use that feedback effectively. Make sure to set an intention with your students. Emphasise the need for them to review the explanations that are provided, to help them build their knowledge in a systematic way.

Creating a Classroom Culture of Feedback

Implementing some form of feedback can be accomplished today, but to truly capitalise on the power of feedback, teachers must regularly implement a variety of these techniques into their daily lessons. The techniques that have been outlined here do not require too much time to implement, but can have a powerful effect on student learning when consistently applied.

It may take some time to create a classroom culture of feedback, but as you go about implementing various feedback techniques into your own classroom don’t forget to enjoy the “aha!” moments that are sure to follow.

References:

Hattie, J., & Clarke, S. (2019). Visible Learning: Feedback. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

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