Tag Archives: Higher education

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. https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/one-dot-com/one-dot-com/us/en/pearson-ed/downloads/Feedback.pdf

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. https://phil-race.co.uk/2016/12/university-huddersfield-school-education-1st-december/

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

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The need to go beyond an individualistic conception of teaching at university

I am currently in the process of planning a 4th year course on Content and Language Integrated Learning at Universidad Pontificia Comillas. Now, as you may know this is one of the courses I’ve been teaching for the last 5 years, and pride myself on contributing, albeit modestly, to my students becoming effective CLIL subject teachers.

Well, the special thing this year is that I will be teaching the two sections of the course together with two other teachers – not splitting sections into sub-sections as originally planned, but following a team-teaching strategy. That’s spending a lot of time together in class, but using the extra humanpower (so to speak) to better monitor student’s individual and group work, provide better feedback, and have an alternative vision to the leading teacher’s.

Now, this is bound to be challenging and, in all cases, more work for the three of us. But, the more I think, the more I feel it will help overcome my limitations as a teacher and, why not, send a strong symbolic message to the student teachers who’ll benefit from our work.

We teachers tend to be individualistic – our method, our students, our classroom (with our doors conveniently shut, of course). At CES Don Bosco, my previous institution, I was lucky enough to teach the same teacher trainees over a period of three years. This was useful in so many ways, and one of my targets was to develop some language and teaching skills across several subjects and years: skills such as effective public speaking, lesson planning skills or basic language awareness. Effective as that might have proved, I feel that these and other skills would have been better integrated by students had my colleagues teaching in the EFL specialism and I managed to work in a more coordinated way so as to give students a greater sense of continuity and cohesion in what they were being asked to learn.

And this is a shortcoming of the education we provide in many university programs: the fragmentation. I have been noticing during the last years -probably more since the advent of the new Grados (4 year degrees based on the European credit transfer system) and their semester-long courses, that many (maybe most) students don’t naturally make connections between what they learn in different, yet strongly related, courses.

Once, a colleague of mine complained to me that her students were terrible at delivering presentations. Surprising, I thought, as those same students had done terrific work on public speaking with me just a semester before. More recently, teaching Comillas Translation students, I have noticed how hard it is to get them to cite their sources consistently when writing an essay or an assignment, and closely follow a citation guide (APA, in this case). They will do it, eventually (they need it to pass), but more often than not in the next course and with the next teacher they will revert to their high school ways unless being explicitly required to follow the criteria they learned with me. And this, of course, requires coordination between the teaching staff.

The moral of all this? Well, of course it’s rewarding to be valued by what happens in your class. However, you can still hold on to your unique teaching style and have a lot of fun in class while making some compromises so that students will not only remember you, but the whole “package” they received from the institution.

John Hattie sums it up nicely in Visible Learning for Teachers (2012, p.15):

Too often, we see the essential nature of our profession as autonomy – autonomy to teach how we know best, autonomy to choose resources and methods that we think are best, and autonomy to go back tomorrow and have another chance of doing what we have already done many times. […] We have good evidence that most, if not all, of our methods, resources and teaching do have a positive effect on achievement – and many attain greater-than-average effects. The profession needs to be embracing the notions of what it is to be successful in teaching, helping all in a collaborative manner [emphasis mine] to attain this excellence, and recognizing major effects when they are evident.

team chalkboard big

 

References

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.

 

 

 

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