Formative Feedback

Lastly, one of the most important parts of feedback is when, and how you implement it. The only way students can improve in their learning, is if they have someone to interpret their work, and share with them effective strategies for them to continue learning. As Bruner said back in 1970, “learning depends on knowledge of results, at a time when, and at a place where, the knowledge can be used for correction.”

Lets unpack that a bit. “Learning depends on knowledge of results”: meaning that its not enough to just learn something, students have to then learn from the results of their actions. “At a time when, and a place where, the knowledge can be used for correction”: its not enough for students to learn, or even to be told how to improve on their learning, that all needs to happen at a time and place in which they are ready for it.

This table from Sharon Gedye’s article “Formative assessment and feedback: a review” shows Sadler’s six resources for effective formative feedback.

Gedye goes on to give some more ways to improve the quality of your feedback. She says that your feedback should be presented as soon as you can after the assignment, and should be as directly relevant to the work as possible. Additionally, the feedback should not just be about the strengths and weaknesses of the work, but also include ways to improve on the work. This feedback should also be minimal, so students do not get overwhelmed and can prioritize in the most important space.


Feedback and Reporting Language

One thing that is very important for the implementation of Formative Assessment, is the language you use to report your feedback to the students. To this end I wanted to look into some effective language use to communicate feedback.

One really important point that I have seen discussed in numerous different places, is effective and proper use of praise. Historically, praise was often used to uplift a student on their achievements and show them the accurately completed their goals. This lead to an interesting problem, in which students began to care a lot more about the receiving praise, than growing and learning. Students who are told “Wow good job, you are so smart”, are unlikely to continue trying to solve more difficult problems for fear of failure. This is called a Performance Avoidance Mindset. These are students who perform exclusively for extrinsic motivation; they want to be told they are smart, again and again. If they are forced to work hard on something in order to complete it, and do not receive the praise they were expecting or hoping for, they are unlikely to try again. And that makes sense. It also makes sense that if you are giving Assessment OF Learning, it is very likely you will give this kind of feedback; the student either did well or poorly, nothing else matters.

However, if you instead say “Wow great effort, you worked so hard and this [insert specific example] part of your assignment was really great because of [insert specific reason]”, you are going to get a very different response from your student. This response is doing two very important things differently that the first example. One is very obvious, and that is the specificity of the feedback. Your assessment is showing that you really focused on something the student did well. The student can tell that you really cared about their efforts. And on the topic of effort, that is the second great part of this feedback. The emphasis on praise of effort over achievement has been shown to increase further growth and encourage a Growth Mindset, or a Mastery Approach Mindset. These students are highly likely to try something more difficult, or beyond their immediate skill level because they believe it really doesn’t matter whether or not they succeed, what matters is that they try their best and work hard.

Of course this is not enough and it is important to inform students of how they can improve. At this point though, when you have a student who is already in the mindset of being prepared to learn and improve, any constructive feedback you give is more likely to be accepted as constructive and to reflect on it to improve.

This is just one example of a way to use appropriate language for student feedback. There are many many things to remember when reporting to students.

Here are a few links to sites that discuss this problem:

Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment OF Learning

One of the most important points in the introduction of Formative assessment was its evolution from what came before it. For many years education was run off a system of Summative Assessment.

Summative Assessment is also known as Assessment OF Learning. This is a pretty easy way of undertanding what Summative assessment is. It is generally a way of assessing student learning through their final assignments of tests. This is a very useful technique is a few ways. It is absolutely useful when making a final decision of whether or not a student has accomplished a goal.

However, after years of exclusively assessing student work in this way, it became clear that this was not optimal. The main problem with Summative Assessment is that there is very minimal constructive feedback throughout the learning. As a result, by the time students receive their feedback, there is no room or time to improve on what they have been told. If the term/year is over, how as students supposed to take their feedback and learn from it?

That is where Formative Assessment comes in. A second way of thinking about Formative Assessment is as Assessment FOR Learning. Again, this name says a lot. It was created specifically with the goal of filling in the holes that Summative Assessment left, i.e. assessing and providing feedback for students with the intention of allowing them to learn from and improve on their work and learning.

This is a picture from the book “Classroom Assessment for Student Learning” by Rick Stiggins, Judith Arter, and Jan and Steve Chappuis. It is a table showing the differences between Assessment FOR Learning and Assessment OF Learning.