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Providing effective feedback: lessons from research (I)

Providing effective feedback to students has always been one of my biggest concerns as a university lecturer and teacher trainer. In fact, it goes hand in hand with the task-based approach to instruction that I have written about lately in this blog.

In the Spring of 2020, I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to teach a short course on precisely this topic as part of Universidad Autónoma’s In-service faculty training program. The course was entitled The Power of feedback: Responding effectively to student work – a title that directly echoes the influential article on feedback published by John Hattie and Helen Timperley in 2008.

This article, written to support the second edition of the course (March 2021), provides a summary of some of the main research findings on feedback and, moreover, suggests some practical implications for university instruction.

LESSON ONE: Not all feedback is effective. Contradicting early behaviorist understandings, research has demonstrated that feedback may be accepted, modified or rejected (Kulhavy, 1977). Teaching implication: Feedback should be carefully planned, considering questions such as who, when, how much and how it will be used.

LESSON TWO. When effective, feedback is VERY effective. (Effective) feedback has been found to be in the top 5-10 influences on student achievement (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). To contextualize this impact, other factors with a similar impact include teacher clarity, reciprocal teaching and students’ prior cognitive ability. Teaching implication: Be sure to make room for effective feedback as one of your instructional strategies.

LESSON THREE. Powerful feedback is related to task achievement. More than comments or grades on quizzes or exams, feedback has its greatest effect when it involves students receiving information about a task and how to do it more effectively. In other words, it is interesting that feedback address procedural knowledge more than declarative knowledge.

Moreover, there are two significant related findings. The first one is that praise, punishment and extrinsic rewards (e.g. marks) are not especially effective – basically, because they contain little or no information. Secondly, feedback on task achievement is at its most effective when it provides information on correct responses and when it builds on previous trials (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Teaching implications: Set meaningful and relevant tasks and projects as part of formative assessment. Be sure to comment on what students did well and not just focus on correction.

LESSON FOUR. Feedback must be specific and comprehensible. As we have seen, grades and scores provide little information. So do comments that rely on general, “final” language: great, poor, satisfactory… (Race, 2016). Teaching implication: make your feedback specific by

  • Stating clear goals and assessment (success) criteria, included in rubrics, checklists, model assignments or worked examples. Crucially, review the assessment criteria and tools with the students before completion of the task, assignment or project.
  • Using specific language of constructive criticism: I really like your use of…./ Why don’t you….? / Consider including…
Example of an analytic rubric used by my colleagues and I with 4th year teacher trainees.

LESSON FIVE. Feedback needs to have the ability to be acted upon. Feedback is not synonymous with “information” – the data provided must be fed back into the system in order to improve the outcomes (Carless et al., 2016; Boud & Molloy, 2013). Teaching implications: Two stage tasks or assignments have been found to be more useful than one-off tasks. Other possible strategies include rewrites, similar tasks for different topics / contexts, portfolio tasks, reflective writing…

Source: (Pearson, 2016)

References and suggested readings

Askew, S. & Lodge, C. (2000). Gifts, ping-pong and loops – linking feedback and learning. Feedback for learning. London; New York: Routledge/Falmer

Boud, D., and E. Molloy. 2013. “Rethinking Models of Feedback for Learning: The Challenge of Design.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 38 (6): 698–712.

Brown, S. (2015) Learning, teaching and assessment in higher education: global perspectives. London: Palgrave Teaching and Learning.

Carless, D., D. Salter, M. Yang, and J. Lam. 2011. “Developing Sustainable Feedback Practices.” Studies in Higher Education 36 (4): 395–407.

Hattie, J., and H. Timperley. 2007. The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research 77, no. 1: 81–112.

Kulhavy, R. W. (1977). Feedback in written instruction. Review of Educational Research, 47(1), 211–232.

Pearson. Higher Education Services (2016). Providing Educational Feedback. White Paper.

Race, P. (2016). Fourteen Ideas for making Assessment and Formative Feedback more Effective and Manageable. Presentation given at the University of Huddersfield, 1st December, 2016.

Sadler, D.R. 1989. Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science 18, no. 2: 119–44.

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Seminars on EMI and CLIL at PH Zug, Switzerland

International visits and teacher mobility experiences are, without a doubt, one of the biggest perks of my job. They are enriching in so many ways, but perhaps foremost among them is that they make you see what you do back home in a new light.

In November 2018 I was lucky to visit the delightful town of Zug, close to Zurich, as part of the Swiss-European Mobility Programme. The visit was a short one – just two days of work, one of them devoted to visiting local schools, and the other one to teaching at the university.

captura de pantalla 2019-01-18 a las 11.03.46

During my day at PH Zug, I conducted seminar presentations on three topics:

  • The Comunidad de Madrid Bilingual Education Program
  • Scaffolding Instructional techniques for CLIL Primary Education
  • Effective scaffolding of learning in EMI higher education courses

It was definitely fascinating to try to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of such an ambitious CLIL program as the one we have in Madrid together with students and teachers who are working in a context where there are very limited CLIL experiences, mainly some EMI instruction in public high schools.


With Dr Olivia Green, who kindly organized my timetable of teaching and school visits

It was also exciting hearing about how PH Zug’s gradual efforts at implementing EMI in teacher training courses is contributing to the university’s internationalization, and at the same time is welcome by the national German-speaking students.

More so, there is also some work being done on using French as a medium of instruction, and promoting French CLIL in German-speaking schools. I can’t think of a better way of promoting a true multilingualism and building bridges between the different language communities of such a diverse country as Switzerland.

In an age where the European integration project has come under attack, it’s inspiring to be able to enjoy experiences of international cooperation and sharing of ideas as the ones I enjoyed during my short stay in Zug.


Who’s who at the college. What a great idea!


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Our Co-teaching experience: An assessment after year 1

In the previous entry, I was reflecting on the challenge of planning and delivering a university course in a truly collaboratively way.

Well, my colleagues Magdalena Custodio and Lyndsay Buckingham and myself just presented an analysis of our first year of co-teaching together, in the framework of Instituto Franklin’s 4th International Conference on Bilingual Education in a Globalized World, that took place in Alcalá de Henares on November 16-18, 2018.

You may find a summary of our theoretical framework, as well as a description of our experience and main findings here:

On top of improving our co-taught coursework this year, we hope to build a more systematic research framework and investigate what makes co-teaching a positive factor in our classes, and to what extent exposure to this strategy can influence teacher trainees in their professional growth.


The CLIL Team!

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9 Principles of University Instruction

After 15 years working as a university lecturer teaching courses ranging from languages to Social Science, I feel it is a good moment to write down what I consider to be some of the most important principles of good teaching – at least the ones that have inspired my own teaching practice the most.

What follows is a wholly personal reflection based on my experience as a student and as an instructor,  and therefore makes no claims of academic validity. Still I hope it will spur some discussion


1.- Activate your students

There are a million ways of doing so, and your choices will depend on variables such as course materials, the profile of your students, or your personal style. By and large,I believe in capitalizing on students’ intrinsic motivation, and try to design class work that is engaging both personally and cognitively.


2.- Expect the best from them (and say so)

I still remember a lecturer I had during my degree in Canada who taught my group a History of Science survey course. Well, she’d constantly say things like, “well, I could explain such and such a theory, but I guess it’s too complicated”. We all felt like telling her that at the same time another lecturer was asking us to read (and understand!) Kant’s Critique of Judgment in a week. And maybe we didn’t quite get there – but which of the two managed to motivate us more?

Most students like to be challenged. And that’s understandable, because setting demanding yet realistic challenges is a sign of respect for students and their potential.


3.- Make your students think

Activation, of course, is not enough, if our students just end up cramming information into their short-term memories in order to eventually regurgitate it in the exam. Most courses will offer plenty of opportunities for thinking that goes beyond memorizing (sometimes called higher-order thinking) and it is your job to design activities that promote thinking in your class.

Taxonomies such as Bloom’s can be of help:

Resultado de imagen de bloom taxonomy

Source: Expert Beacon

What taxonomies such as Bloom or SOLO suggest is that lower order thinking skills are necessary but not sufficient, and that coursework and assessment should factor in higher order thinking, too.

For instance:

Evaluate the respective pros and cons of economic policy A in an economy described by characteristics C1, C2 and C3

is a better question than

Describe the main features of economic policy A.

as it asks students not only to remember and understand (as the second question does), but also to apply, analyze and evaluate.


4.- Shut up and teach

In EFL teacher training courses and handbooks there is big fuss about reducing teacher talking time (TTT) and maximizing student talking time (STT).  Of course, in language courses the point is essentially to get students to communicate.

However, even in regular content teaching it turns out that students are usually more cognitively engaged when talking, negotiating, explaining, team-writing….in short, doing. Emphasis on collaborative class-room and flipped methodology goes in this line.


5.- Make sure your assessment techniques are aligned with what goes on in class

I’ve written about constructive alignment before, as one of the theoretical frameworks on teaching that I have found most inspiring. Still, it still surprises me how easy it is to fail to evaluate students on the same skills that we ask them to develop in class.

So what happens if most of the grade depends on a final exam that is based on memorization? Well, most students (except perhaps the most academically oriented) will adjust to that evaluation choice and, perhaps, not give their best when it comes to attending our fantastically planned, student-focused lectures, or submitting other assignments that we have designed in order to improve our students’ thinking, communication or team-work skills.


6.- Use authentic texts

Why do so many uni lecturers keep sharing their own notes (a.k.a “apuntes” in Spanish) or endless Powerpoint presentations crammed with way too much information? Generally speaking, and when compared to published materials, notes tend to be poorly written and insufficiently referenced. Further, as I see it, they are a reflection of an obsolete model of education, in which the instructor is primarily the source of knowledge and the student the “recipient” thereof.

Instead, I feel it is much better to expose the student to well-written texts in the discipline, whether it be teaching methodology handbooks, journal articles or research reports, and train students in critical reading of those genres.


7.- It’s not about knowing and doing: It’s doing for knowing, and knowing for doing

Maybe my bias here comes from my training as a language teacher, but I never quite bought the theory first, then practice sequence. In my experience, theory becomes most meaningful when it is taught in a real-life, practical context. This is the principle behind many teaching approaches such as problem-based or task-based learning. Further, I feel that students nowadays have a shorter attention span (or, if it’s the same as before, then they are worse actors) so introducing theory in a clearly defined practical context is the key to engaging them from the very beginning.


8.- Give quality feedback

As in other fields, convenient and immediate access to information using Internet has radically altered our roles in class. So, if we’re not here mainly to supply information, what is our main function? Well, in a student-focused scenario (see numbers 4 and 7, above), designing and managing meaningful classwork will take-up a lot of our time. But so will feedback, or the way we respond to student work and that should enable student progress on the targeted skills. In teaching terminology, we’re talking about capitalizing on formative assessment (for learning) v summative assessment (of learning).

There are almost infinite ways of providing feedback to student work: comments on paper or online, using evaluation rubrics or checklists, whole-class comments and clarification after correcting an assignment…

Generally, in recent years I have tried to take the extra step from teacher-focused feedback to more student centered forms of self- and peer-assessment. As I have described elsewhere in this blog, it turns out that this methodology, while not necessarily improving the performance of the stronger students, does result in a higher average performance for the class.


9.- Have fun

Yes – really. You’re a university instructor, not a prisoner breaking rocks in some God-forsaken penitentiary.Have you ever thought about how lucky you are to be in the position of cognitively stimulating human beings at the prime of their lives? We all remember some or all of the good teachers we had in the past. They were engaging, inspiring and mostly fun. Well, who says it won´t be us who’ll be remembered by our students twenty years down the road?




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Aprendizaje cooperativo

Da gusto ver cómo en algunos centros educativos se realiza un gran esfuerzo de actualización de las metodologías de enseñanza-aprendizaje. Aquí la palabra “esfuerzo” no es casual, ya que la innovación en metodologías y recursos supone siempre un reto para los profesores, y, a la vez, requiere de una importante inversión de recursos por parte de los centros.

Un buen ejemplo de un centro que apuesta decididamente por la innovación en materia educativa es el Colegio Mater Immaculata de Madrid, que tuve la ocasión de visitar por primera vez el curso pasado, y en el que trabaja un buen número de antiguos alumnos míos del CES Don Bosco. Observando varias clases de inglés y Science, pude comprobar, entre otras cosas, lo interesante que resulta la aplicación de una metodología de aprendizaje cooperativo que busca que los alumnos se familiaricen con los diferentes roles del trabajo en equipo y, a la vez, desarrollen una importante autonomía en el trabajo grupal.


Información sobre los diferentes roles propuestos

Lo que vi me gustó tanto que este curso, aprovechando la colaboración entre el Mater y el CES Don Bosco en dos líneas de Trabajo de Fin de Grado que coordino, le pedí a Rodrigo Ruiz, mi persona de referencia en cole, que se acercara al CES para impartir un taller sobre AC a alumnos de cuarto curso del Grado de Maestro en Ed. Primaria. El taller sirvió para que nuestros alumnos experimentaran de primera mano los diferentes roles propuestos (speaker, coordinator, supervisor, environment) a la vez que realizaban algunas tareas de las asignaturas de inglés y Science en Ed. Primaria. Y, en lo que a mí me toca, para traer al aula una experiencia más próxima al quehacer diario del maestro de asignaturas CLIL, en el contexto de una asignatura titulada “Formación para el Bilingüismo”.

En definitiva, el taller ha sido una gran ocasión de traer “el cole” a la universidad, lo cual, evidentemente, debe ser una línea prioritaria en la formación de futuros maestros. Gracias a Rodrigo por su buen hacer y a las autoridades del Mater por liberarle una mañana.



Señal de silencio. Habrá que probarla con algunos de mis grupos…



Rodrigo en acción, en los pocos momentos en los que tenía que dirigirse al gran grupo.





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Presentación de Microesferas

El pasado 27 de octubre tuvo lugar la presentación de Microesferas, antología de microficción en la que participo con siete cuentos. El acto, que tuvo lugar en uno de los aristocráticos salones que tiene el palacete donde se ubica la SGAE, en Madrid, estuvo presentado por Lidia López Miguel, directora de la editorial Lastura, y Xavier Frías Conde, escritor y también editor de la misma.


Los autores y editores presentes en el acto

Durante la hora aproximada que duró la sesión, los autores presentes leyeron algunos de sus cuentos, así como una selección de cuentos de los autores ausentes. Se escucharon relatos de todo tipo: divertidos, tristes, misteriosos…y emocionantes, como la lectura realizada por Xavier Frías de la traducción al gallego de uno de los relatos de la autora Laura Frost. Y es que, fiel a la apuesta multilingüe de Lastura, Microesferas se ha publicado tanto en castellano como en una versión traducida al gallego.


A.L. leyendo uno de sus microcuentos


En definitiva, fue una tarde muy agradable rodeado de buenos cuentos y buena gente; toda una incitación a seguir escribiendo cuentos y, tal vez, poder publicar mi propio libro de micros pronto.

Microesferas se puede comprar a través de la web de la editorial Lastura


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La insoportable ubicuidad de los libros de texto: algunas preguntas

Reconozco que, de un tiempo a esta parte, le he cogido manía a los libros de texto. Mejor dicho, a la cultura de los libros de texto: el que no se imagine una clase sin ellos, el que los alumnos deban completarlos cueste lo que cueste, el que haya tantos y estén en tantos sitios. Mi aversión se acentúa en esta época del año —el inicio del curso— al comprobar cómo las familias realizamos un desembolso obsceno en ellos y, para más inri, debemos dedicar nuestro valioso tiempo a forrarlos (otra costumbre patria de dudoso valor actual, teniendo en cuenta que la mayoría de los libros se entregan ahora en forma de cuadernillos trimestrales y apenas da tiempo a destrozarlos).

No tengo nada en contra del libro de texto como recurso educativo. Creo que es muy apto para determinadas asignaturas, contextos y etapas del aprendizaje. Más aún: en mi experiencia, un buen libro de texto contribuye no solo al mejor aprendizaje de los alumnos, sino a la propia capacitación didáctica del profesor. (Me acuerdo ahora, por ejemplo, de las horas de Lengua Inglesa con alumnos de Magisterio, apoyadas por el excelente New Headway Upper Intermediate, de Liz y John Soars.)

No tengo los conocimientos necesarios para ofrecer un análisis completo y riguroso de los costes económicos y educativos de esta cultura del aprendizaje. Pero sí detecto, desde mi experiencia como profesor, formador de maestros y padre, que merece la pena preguntarnos sí esta es la mejor o única forma de hacer las cosas. Por eso, realizo a continuación una serie de preguntas, irónicas o ingenuas, para motivar la reflexión.

1.- ¿Por qué es tan difícil ver centros de Ed. Primaria que no utilizan libros de texto por sistema, o los utilizan solo esporádicamente como un recurso más?

2.- ¿Por qué en muchos se centros se siguen usando los libros como única fuente de información, es decir, como si Internet no existiera?

3.- ¿Es realmente necesario el uso de libros de texto hasta para trabajar la religión, la educación en valores o la competencia emocional?


4.- ¿Cómo se justifica el desembolso de varios cientos de euros por parte de los padres, cuando se supone que la educación es gratuita? ¿Por qué lo seguimos haciendo, en lugar de quejarnos?

5.- ¿Por qué el muñeco asociado al método editorial está disponible para su compra en los centros comerciales? ¿Qué clase de lección tácita constituye esto para nuestros hijos? ¿No podría cada clase tener su muñeco único, irreemplazable, inimitable y, sobre todo, no consumible?

insoportable ubiciudad

6.- ¿Por qué numerosos centros que trabajan por proyectos en Educación Infantil —cada vez más, afortunadamente— no se animan a extender la experiencia a Primaria?

7.- ¿Por que hay libros de Conocimiento del medio cuando el Medio es, por definición, lo que está FUERA del libro? ¿Por qué las excursiones, paseos por el barrio y visitas de invitados al aula —padres, abuelos, policías, bomberos, niños de otros cursos— son la excepción en lugar de la regla?

8.- ¿Por qué tantos padres se quejan a los centros cuando los libros de texto de sus hijos no se terminan, se usan poco o, directamente, se prescinde de ellos?

9.-¿Quién se beneficia de esta cultura escolar? ¿Padres? ¿Profes? ¿Editoriales? ¿Fabricantes de mochilas con ruedas?

10.- ¿Tan difícil o arriesgado es programar una asignatura sin seguir las pautas marcadas por el libro? ¿Será que en las escuelas de formación de profesorado no enseñamos a programar? ¿O acaso las editoriales conocen a “nuestros” niños mejor que nosotros?

11.- ¿Merece la pena seguir perpetuando la omnipresencia de un recurso tan monótono y desmotivador en nuestras aulas?

Recomiendo, como respuesta a alguna de estas preguntas, dos artículos del profesor Rafael Feito (UCM).  En el primero se critica la cultura metodológica a la que me he referido anteriormente. En el segundo se describe la experiencia de un colegio —el CEIP La Navata— que ha decidido abandonarla.

¿Qué podemos hacer? Sea lo que sea, como sugiere Ken Robinson, la respuesta NO está al final del libro.

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