Receiving feedback is absolutely vital to students’ learning and academic performance. It allows them to build on what they’ve done to do even better in the future, and ensures they learn from their mistakes.
However, feedback can often miss the mark and focus on the wrong things, irrelevant elements that may not help students reach their goals and enhance their learning. So, how do you know you’re giving your students useful feedback? Equally, how can your students ask the right questions to get the guidance they need?
An interesting review highlights three simple questions to focus on…
The importance of process-based feedback
With the huge impact that it can have on learning, it’s important to ask: what’s the best way to give feedback to students?
- Outcome-based feedback – This type, perhaps the most common one, focuses on whether a task has been completed successfully.
- Process-based feedback – This type focuses on the decisions students made during a task, the strategies they used, and how they approached the task.
So, what did they find? Well, while outcome-based feedback can be useful when your students have misunderstood a concept, it isn’t particularly generalisable, making it unlikely to help students learn transferrable strategies.
As a result, process-based feedback was more effective at improving students’ performance in the study, suggesting that it helps them make the most out of their learning.
3 essential questions for process-based feedback
A fascinating review of the literature on feedback and its impact on student learning and achievement identified that effective process-based feedback answers three specific questions.
So, what are they, and how can you make sure that you answer them in your classroom?
- “Where am I going?”
This first question is all about identifying and setting the overarching goal for the task at hand. Knowing what they’re working towards can help students prepare for and persist against obstacles, as well as keep their motivation levels up throughout.
Here are some ways to help your students understand where they are going:
- Define the criteria for success – Research suggests that vague goals that aren’t clear about what constitutes success might not be as effective. Encourage your students to define a specific goal, such as “study for an hour every day” rather than just “study more”.
- Help your students commit to their goal – Just because your students have set a goal in your classroom doesn’t mean they are fully committed to it. Some ways to motivate students to do so include getting them to write their goal down, rewarding them for meeting their goals, and making sure that they share accountability with and are encouraged by teachers, peers or parents.
- “How am I going?”
This second question is about reflecting on the improvements students have made since they started working on a goal or since the previous task they’ve worked on. This prompts them to think about their progress and how to keep improving the strategies they use.
To help your students reflect on what they’ve done so far, focus on encouraging self-reflection. Giving your students feedback on how much progress they’ve made is highly effective to improve their learning, and will give them a confidence boost that should fuel their motivation.
- “Where to next?”
The third and last question is about the next steps a student needs to take to bring them closer to their goal. This is often referred to as feeding forward – instead of focusing on a student’s past performance, this is about how to improve and which choices to make from that point on. As an added bonus, putting the emphasis on getting better helps students avoid feeling judged and reacting defensively to the feedback.
Some ways to feed forward include:
- Suggesting what strategies, behaviours and processes to try next
- Sharing ideas on how to improve
- Letting students think about what to do differently themselves
Feedback is crucial to student improvement, but not all feedback is made equal.
Focusing on feedback that addresses the key points of a student’s learning journey and feeds their motivation is the most efficient way to help them progress. These three questions will help you choose the right elements to discuss, and will help your students seek out the feedback they need.