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Effective feedback clarifies for students what they have achieved and what they need to do in future in order to improve.  It is often best to think of it as feed forward, which encourages students (and teaching staff) to consider future impact. 

Feedback is an important element of teaching and learning. Ongoing formative assessment and feedback in the classroom – e.g. involving students in carefully scaffolded informal self- and peer-assessment can be a useful way in which to raise student’s awareness of the values and expectations of your academic discipline and to prepare them for the kind/format of feedback they may receive at the end of a module, as well as a way of helping them to judge the quality of any future work that they do. 

Effective feedback involves two elements: (1) feedback – looking back to what has been achieved by the student in relation to the learning outcomes and (2) feedforward – looking forward to what students need to apply in their next (similar) assignment/exam. Feedback should be focused on items which are related to the learning outcomes being assessed through the assignment (constructive alignment). It should also be linked, where possible, to the marking rubric. Students are most likely to benefit from feedback if they receive it before they move onto their next assignment. 

Although feedback is often associated with the formal marking of formative and summative assessments (which may be written, e.g. an essay or verbal, e.g. a viva or presentation) it can also be given more informally. Verbal feedback might be delivered face-to-face, in a class situation (and potentially be more generic), or via a recording (e.g. on a virtual learning environment (VLE)). 

You might like to follow up any verbal feedback session with an email to the student, to reiterate what was said, especially if there are any additional learning needs. Recording or documenting feedback in this way is useful for internal moderation practices and for demonstrating rigour to external examiners. 

Best Practice Tips

  • Keep a copy of the learning outcomes and mark scheme to hand, keep points short and to the point.  
  • Use language which is clear and appropriate for your audience (UGs, PGs, etc.). It should be consistent with the (student-friendly) marking rubric (mark scheme) and terminology they have heard as part of the module so they can easily see the links between their learning and what they have achieved. 
  • Consider three elements: (1) what the students need to do to improve, (2) where they can find a specific illustrative example of what youre referring to in their work (e.g. page/paragraph number), and (3) where they can go for further advice, e.g. provide a reference, refer back to a particular lecture etc. 
  • Use bullet points, beginning with verbs, to focus students on what they need to do next. Use of bullet points can also save time and help to make the explanations more concise. 
  • Remember that even high-scoring students need to know what to do to continue to improve (unless they achieved 100%!) 
  • Consider giving students advice about their process as well as the product, e.g. have they engaged with sufficient reading/used an appropriate range of written sources. 
  • Consider, if appropriate, whether use of numbering, colour coding or symbols could help. Make sure the method you choose is accessible to all students. 
  • Require students to do something with the feedback, for example, a verbal explanation of what they’ll do next or a written reflective account of what they’ve learnt and how they’ve responded to the feedback when submitting their next assignment.  

Further Reading

Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D. & Molloy, E. (2019) What makes for effective feedback: staff and student perspectives, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44:1, 25-36.

Irons, A. (2008) Enhancing learning through formative assessment and feedback. Routledge, Abingdon, UK. 

Race, P. (no date) Using Feedback to Help Students to Learn. The Higher Education Academy.