However, unlike the teaching process, assessment does not have the same dialogic element that learning and teaching now has. While feedback is a key element in formative assessment, we do not know how our feedback is understood by the learner, or what meaning they make of it. What makes good feedback, and how do we ensure that learners can understand and act upon it?
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The current language of learning and teaching is underscored with the concept of student engagement with the curriculum. However, the language of assessment often remains in the realm of judgement and the way it is conveyed is clearly in the transmission model of teaching where rigidity, standards and rules stand in place of dialogue, flexibility and learner centeredness. Their research focused on formative assessment, and citing the work of Crooks indicated that the focus on the summative features of assessment has diluted the impact that assessment has on learning.
We need a clearly defined task, criteria that establish what good performance is for that task, and the ability to convey that understanding of the criteria to the learner. This definition feels overly mechanistic, using the language of electrical circuitry, a metaphor that recurs throughout the literature and highlights an important factor in feedback often ignored: the meaning and impact of feedback on the student. Undoubtedly the skill of the teacher in crafting useful feedback is an important element in the process.
Sadler notes that the quality of the interactions between teacher and student are at the heart of teaching and learning and identifies six resources that teachers have in making judgements about assessment:. That teachers can deliver high quality, expertly framed feedback statements, needs to be further substantiated to enable us to establish what high quality feedback is.
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Nicol suggests the following definition of quality:. Feedback is not only concerned with a prediction by the teacher of what the learner might learn and be able to do; it is also the interaction of the learner with this prediction.
How do we ensure that the learner can make meaning of feedback? The learner needs not only to understand the feedback and the gap it is describing, but also needs to feel empowered and willing to address it.
What is feedback?
Thus the learner must understand the feedback to be able to action it, and they need to perceive that this is a possible task, and the gap between current performance and good performance is not impossibly wide. Self-assessment, and self-knowledge, what Nicol et al. The work of Nicol et al. He suggests that self-regulation is the degree to which students can regulate aspects of their thinking, motivation and behaviour during learning.
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Nicol et al. Nicol indicates that the transmission model of feedback has only recently been challenged. If feedback is the teachers' domain, as part of the transmission model of learning, then it would disempower the learner. Further, if the feedback is written by the teacher the assumption is that the student can understand it, that the teacher is highly skilled in framing feedback. As Nicol et al. The last three echo the work of Nicol et al. Sadler tells us that:. By quality of feedback, we now realise we have to understand not just the technical structure of the feedback such as accuracy, comprehensiveness and appropriateness but also its accessibility to the learner as a communication , its catalytic and coaching value, and its ability to inspire confidence and hope Sadler, The catalytic, coaching and inspirational value of feedback connects with the concept of belief espoused by Carless provides further evidence of the affective impact of assessment exploring issues of power, emotion and discourse in relation to the written feedback given on students' assignments.
He identified a number of differing perceptions between tutors and students in terms of the emphasis on grades, usefulness of feedback and fairness of the judgements and suggests assessment dialogues as a means of clarifying these differences. Nicol examines students' negative reaction to written feedback, which, students claim, is difficult to understand and does not meet their needs. Previous research identified that most feedback was largely negative in nature, focussed on the mechanical aspects of the task and provided little that offered a clear direction on how to improve.
This research indicated that there is a need for students' to engage with the feedback to make sense of it. Burke proposes feedback tutorials where students engage with the feedback they have been given, providing a site for the feedback dialogue. Students can only achieve goals if they understand them, which is difficult as feedback is often written in a coded and tacit format. Giving students feedback on their learning behavior and thought process requires a level of individualized attention that teachers in a typical classroom are unable to provide.
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Handing out more multiple choice questions that can be graded by a machine and reported back to the student often seems like the only option. Resolving this feedback gap requires thinking beyond the traditional classroom model where teachers are solely responsible for providing feedback via grades and comments. Can data on digital platforms be used as a means to provide more frequent and actionable feedback?
Could sharing notes and answers enable students to learn from one another and provide peer review? We measure student outcomes without understanding how those outcomes came about or what they entail for instruction and student learning. Optimizing feedback requires rethinking the way we assess students.
Feedback for Learning – Infographic
One starting point might be giving students the opportunity to revise their incorrect answers. Students want to improve and get a second chance to try a different approach to answering a question.
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Teachers who encourage students to retry their answers send students the message that learning is about reflection and practice rather than mere performance outcomes. Giving thoughtful feedback that informs deeper learning also enables teachers to improve their instruction. When teachers focus on the learning process rather than performance outcomes, feedback becomes a two-way channel. As with so many aspects of teaching, feedback is both an art and a science.
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