- Education and Science
How to Give Effective Feedback
Effective Feedback helps to improve the poor performer to competence. It also helps in moving the competent to excellence.
Giving and Receiving Feedback
We have all, at many points in our life, given or received feedback. Feedback has become integral to educational processes, evaluatory exercises and social interactions. We all crave for positive feedback and may get upset by the negative. Effective feedback is essential for growth.
Good feedback is worth its weight in gold. Learners or employees who receive effective feedback show clear improvements in their performance. Feedback is not just reserved for improving the poor performer to competence. It is also essential to move the competent to excellence.
The term 'Effective Feedback' is used to indicate feedback that is valued and valuable.
While we all give feedback, perhaps few of us have reflected on the process itself:
- Is the feedback we are giving effective?
- Does it serve the purpose we intend it to?
- Is it given in a way that the recipient benefits from it?
- What are our strengths in giving feedback?
- Are there ways of improving our feedback?
Can we distinguish between advice, evaluation and feedback?
A preliminary pause for reflection:
- What activities are you involved in where your role involves giving feedback?
- Do you know the key principles of giving feedback?
- What are your strengths in giving feedback?
- What are your areas of development?
- How do you evaluate your feedback currently?
Scope of this Article
In this article, we will look at the attributes of effective feedback and reflect on the skills required to give it. We will look at how, when and what feedback to give and to what end. We will discuss the optimum parameters of good feedback and how to hone our own skills in giving this.
Reflecting on feedback will help us to assimilate the principles and apply it in our daily life. whether it is giving feedback to our children, our friends, our learners or work colleagues - this will help us to think on our own strengths and development needs in giving feedback.
Giving effective feedback is not easy. It needs patience, preparation and participation. We will work step by step through the criteria for giving effective feedback. This way we will be able to think about the real difficulties in giving feedback and how to overcome them through preparation and practice.
Do you currently give feedback in your various roles?
What is not Feedback?
Feedback may be mistaken for advice, simple evaluation, praise or condemnation. While there is some overlap in these, none of these are the same as feedback.
"You were very good on stage!" - Praise
" Your easy manner, confident dialogue delivery and ability to ad-lib were all very good" - Feedback
"You were awful!" - Condemnation
" Your nervous movements, lack of projection, mumbling of dialogue - all will need work! - Feedback
" You got 70% in your test" - Evaluation
" You've got 70% in your test. The other 30% was missed mostly in questions around Geometry. Revising these would help." - Feedback
"You have to do better. work harder." - Advice
" Maybe we should allocate an hour each day for looking at Geometry. We can break the subject down and look for which areas you are already confident at and which may be giving you some trouble. And then we can work on those" - Feedback
What is Feedback?
There are many definitions of the word feedback. Each vary in various contexts.
The word is used in science and technology as the return of a portion of the output of a process or system to its input, in order to maintain performance or to control the system.
In the teaching context, we describe feedback as the return of information about the result of a process or activity; an evaluative response.
All biological systems are modulated, controlled and changed by the product, output or the response of their processes. This is integral to human body from simple hunger/satiety responses to hormone regulation. All life exists and self regulates due to well developed internal feedback mechanisms.
Feedback in integral to any student/teacher relationships. We all know how some feedback is valued, well received and used to improve performance. On the other hand some feedback may not hit home and may be poorly received or ignored.
Not giving feedback may either give a false sense of security or imply a disengaged teacher. Both Teacher and student may create assumptions of competence and lack of trust.
Good learners value feedback. However self -regulated they are, there will be blind spots to their development that need addressing. Feedback from someone who functions as a role-model, as a more experienced individual, can be very valuable.
- Promotes the learner journey to excellence and achievements
- Encourages reflection, self regulation and ownership of learning
- Increases self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation in a learner
- Enhances the one to one relationship between Teacher and Learner
- Enables the teacher to modify and realign teaching contents and method
- Helps develop skills of peer review and self assessment
Why Give Feedback?
Of all the aspects of a teacher/ learner relationship, feedback has been proven to be the one exercise that consistently improves achievement and enhances the Teacher/Learner relationship.
Bellon et al1 have stated that 'academic feedback is more strongly and consistently related to achievement than any other teaching behaviour...this relationship is consistent regardless of grade, socioeconomic status, race, or school setting.'
In a retrospective study of students who dropped out or failed to complete, it was found that lack of feedback was one of main reasons2.
Effective Feedback increases self awareness, self regulation and self confidence in learners.
Phil Race3 in his paper on using feedback to help students learn, talks about the ripple effect of feedback. How the learner's wants and needs creates ripples of doing and digesting. Feedback then act as the bounce back effect that keeps the ripples going. without feedback the ripples will die away...
I have adapted this 'ripple' analogy to illustrate the aspects of learning and how feedback sustains the ripples in the image below.
1. Bellon, J.J., Bellon, E.C. & Blank, M.A. (1991) Teaching from a Research Knowledge Base: a Development and Renewal Process. Facsimile edition. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.
2. Yorke, M. (2002) Academic Failure: a Retrospective View from Non-Completeing Students. In: Failing Students in Higher Education (eds Peelo, M & Wareham, T). SRHE and Open University Press, Maindenhead.
3. Race, P. (2001) Using feedback to help students learn (PDF - 138KB). © The Higher Education Academy.
- Think of times you have received feedback. Was it useful? Did it help to move you forward?
- What were the aspects of the feedback that were helpful?
- What do the terms 'positive' and 'negative' feedback mean to you?
- Is Effective feedback always positive?
Do you regularly receive feedback in your roles?
What is Learner Experience of feedback?
In UK the National Student Surveys (NSS) in 2007 and 2008 showed that among all the aspects of Teaching and learning, learners recorded lowest levels of satisfaction on their feedback.
This 'feedback on feedback' had a very high participation among students , showing just how much they value feedback on their performance.
The Students felt there were several improvements that could be made when it comes to assessment and feedback. The results were so overwhelming across the country that the National Union of Students started a feedback 'amnesty' campaign where students took charge of seeking timely and useful feedback to help their learning journey.
The key areas of feedback were around then need for detail, timeliness, positivity, focus and objectivity of feedback.
Pendleton's Rules of Feedback
Educational Psychologist David Pendleton established some rules of the feedback process:
1. Check the learner wants and is ready for feedback.
2. Let the learner give comments/background to the material that is being assessed.
3. The learner states what was done well.
4. The observer(s) state what was done well.
5. The learner states what could be improved.
6. The observer(s) state how it could be improved.
7. An action plan for improvement is made.
Attributes of Effective Feedback
Looking at the learner perspective, we can start developing themes on what makes a really effective feedback.
There is agreement between learners and their teachers that feedback needs to be for learning and not just of learning.
Feedback needs to be timely. Too long after an assessment or observed behaviour and the impact may be lost. The learner engagement and attention can wane after the initial activity the feedback is being given on. Some activities are designed so that feedback happens contemporaneously. However, rushing in to give critical feedback may also be equally ineffective and damaging. an expert teacher may spot many areas for development in a novice learner - capturing the areas but cascading the feedback in a steady and well planned way is an art. Consider the right timeframe and right frame of mind of the learner.
Even the most confident person can wilt under negative feedback. Tempting though it may be to dive in right to the areas of improvement, it is always worth focusing on the positives first. Teaching circles talk about the 'feedback sandwich' - layering bits of criticism between two positive praise areas may help to limit damage to the learner with poor self confidence. Even a learner who demands that we get 'right to the problem' subconsciously would like to know the positives. Some learners may do well without knowing why or how. Focusing equally on positives helps the learner to bring these skills to conscious competence.
However, it is important that it doesn't get repetitive and patronising.
Referenced to clear criteria:
The learner and the teacher should be clear on the criteria against which the feedback is being given. There needs to be accepted parameters of reference so that the feedback is objective and not pure subjective opinion. This helps the learner to set clear objectives for improvement. Vague, Judgemental feedback not referenced to criteria may be rejected. It may also cause a learner who is unable to set their own goals for improvement. Such feedback can also be subject to observer bias. A teacher who feels a learner is poor may only see poor behaviour and the teacher who is impressed by a learner may only recognise good behaviour. ( Halo effect).
In the case of individual feedback, we should take into account that different learners learn differently. Considering their individual learning styles and preferences helps to develop bespoke plans for improvement. An activist learner may learn better by 'doing' first and learning theory later while a theorist will feel the need to read first and act later. Good feedback will take into account these principles. A Teacher will need to have sufficient creativity to tweak the feedback to suit the learner.
Reflect on a feedback given or received:
- Was it prompt?
- Was it balanced on positives and development needs?
- Was it clearly referenced to an agreed criteria?
- Were you ready for giving/receiving it?
- Was it constructive- suggesting plans for improvement?
- Ddi it encourage self assessment?
Encourage Dialogue/ Self -assessment:
Good feedback should always encourage and develop self assessment in a learner. Even in the best one to one relationship, it is difficult and exhausting for both parties if all the feedback flows one way. Effective feedback should be a dialogue where the teacher and learner look at the criteria of what needs to be achieved, together. They can then reflect on where the learner is and where they should be .
Effective feedback needs to be honest - while it is important to focus on the positives and ensure that feedback doesn't crush the students spirit, it is equally important to be honest. When a learner is excellent, some teachers may not tell them this 'so that they don't get a big head'. The learner may not know of their own strengths.
Some teachers may not let the learner know how bad things are. They may give false reassurances in the interest of positivity. The student may then be unaware of their failings. An honest teacher can plan the delivery of positive and critical messages in a longer term relationship according to need. There will be a good balance between support and challenge.
Being constructive is not the same as positive focus although there is an overlap. Constructive feedback focuses on behaviours exhibited by the learner and suggests alternatives. It helps the learner set clear objectives for improvement and offers a further review against progress. Constructive feedback includes mutually agreed plans for improvement and is clear on the what, how and when.
In addition to the above principles it is wise not to overload the learner with feedback. Give them few clear take home messages that can be acted upon and reviewed. This will help to set achievable targets towards the goal.
Tempting though it may be to deliver the feedback as soon as we notice areas for improvement, it is worth spending some time preparing to give feedback. Consider the learner, their frame of mind, their level of development, their style of learning, confidence level and timeliness of the message. It is also important knowing how to summarise and highlight learning points. Preparation may not necessarily take long. There needs to be a balance between promptness and preparation.
Effective feedback is vital to help a person improve their performance. When done well it will encourage a learner to achieve excellence.
Skills of giving effective feedback can be developed by reflecting on the principles and processes of giving feedback.
Learners value feedback and want more of it.
Well prepared feedback will be referenced against agreed standards and criteria.
It will be timely, positive focused and constructive. It will provide clear targets and suggest alternative behaviours for improvement.
It will be done while maintaining good rapport and as a continuous process.
This will help create an engaged, self confident, self assessing, self motivated learner/employee.
I hope you found this article informative and helpful - Please do feedback below in the comments section.
Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2013
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Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2013