Feedback literacy

You’ve put in the effort. You’ve taken the time to provide your students with useful feedback – identified their errors, addressed their misconceptions, explained what they should have done, directed them to further support, and used a positive, encouraging tone that lets them know you’re sure they’ll be able to do better next time. But when next time rolls around and you’ve finished marking the new set of papers, you have a sneaking suspicion that nobody read a word you wrote. And you’re absolutely convinced there wasn’t a soul who acted on it. Where did it all go wrong?

Well, could it have been that they don’t understand …

  1. the purpose of feedback?
  2. the relationship between feedback and grades?
  3. your feedback?
  4. what to do with the feedback?

Spoiler alert: students don’t all come with the knowledge, skills, motivation, and previous experiences they need to do well at university, especially those who have taken their time getting here – and those who have very little time to spare. Many of them may have missed the cues that should have let them know that time invested in reading, understanding, and addressing feedback is time well spent in terms of efficient, effective, and rewarding learning experiences. And better grades.

So, how can you improve your students’ feedback literacy?

  1. Be explicit and direct about:
    1. why feedback is important
    2. how it can help them achieve their goals
    3. what it looks like and where it will be
    4. how to decode it (particularly important if you use any kind of abbreviations or technical terminology)
    5. what will and will not be included (formative, evaluative, affirmative, instructive, explanatory, descriptive, and/or supportive comments)
    6. what to do with it, including strategies and resources for developing different skills. (I have created a handout/announcement for this purpose – call me and it’s yours!)
    7. the importance of taking responsibility for their own active learning using feedback
  2. Design a curriculum that takes a developmental approach to feedback:
    1. use feedback to authentically feed forward into subsequent assessments
    2. have students practise giving and receiving feedback based on marking rubrics for upcoming assessments in peer-learning tutorial activities
    3. at the very least, remind students to review and reflect on previous feedback before commencing their next assessment
  3. Choose an appropriate mode of feedback: written, verbal, audio, video, individual, group, etc. Mix it up: provide group feedback via an announcement, additional individualised written or video feedback embedded into the submissions, and invite students who need additional support to an online or face-to-face conference. Recognise also that feedback that is uni-directional is less effective and instructive than feedback that is interactive – is there a sustainable way to build in dialogue?
  4. Demonstrate your own commitment to learning from feedback by following up on common issues identified through the marking process with a focused study guide, workshop, or announcement. More simply, let your students know how you will change the subject or assessments after you have sought their feedback.

Feedback tells students what you know they need to know (i.e., how to improve their performance). If you communicate that information by highlighting its effect on outcomes they value (i.e., higher grades), there is a greater chance that they will attend to it.

Feedback literacy is a very powerful learning and teaching tool that encourages a growth mindset in students’ academic, personal, and professional endeavours. Done well, it will also save you the frustration of feeling like all the effort you put into providing comprehensive, instructive feedback has just been a waste of time!

Debbie Wheeler, Academic Skills Coordinator (BJBS)