Another way to give feedback

| December 13, 2016

Effective feedback must answer three major questions asked by a teacher and/or by a student: Where am I going? (What are the goals?), How am I going? (What progress is being made toward the goal?), and Where to next? (What activities need to be undertaken to make better progress?)

These three questions address the dimensions of feed up, feed back, and feed forward. An ideal learning environment or experience occurs when both teachers and students seek answers to each of these questions. Too often, teachers limit students’ opportunities to receive information about their performance in relation to any of these questions by assuming that responsibility for the students and not considering the learning possibilities for themselves.

How Am I Going?

Answering this question involves a teacher (or peer, task, or self) providing information relative to a task or performance goal, often in relation to some expected standard, to prior performance, and/or to success or failure on a specific part of the task. This aspect of feedback could be termed the feed-back dimension. Feedback is effective when it consists of information about progress, and/or about how to proceed. Students often seek information about “how they are going,” although they may not always welcome the answers. Too often, attention to this question leads to assessment or testing, whereas this is not the fundamental conception underlying this question. “Tests” are but one method used by teachers and students to address this question and, as discussed below, often fail to convey feedback information that helps teachers and their students to know how they are going.

Where to Next

Instruction often is sequential, with teachers providing information, tasks, or learning intentions; students attempting tasks; and some subsequent consequence. Too often, the consequence is more information, more tasks, and more expectations; students thus learn that the answer to “Where to next?” is “more.” The power of feedback, however, can be used to specifically address this question by providing information that leads to greater possibilities for learning. These may include enhanced challenges, more self-regulation over the learning process, greater fluency and automaticity, more strategies and processes to work on the tasks, deeper understanding, and more information about what is and what is not understood. This feed-forward question can have some of the most powerful impacts on learning.

Integrating the Three Questions

Rather than the above three questions working in isolation at each of the four levels, they typically work together. Feedback relating to “How am I going?” has the power to lead to undertaking further tasks or “Where to next?” relative to a goal “Where am I going?” As Sadler (1989) convincingly argued, it is closing the gap between where students are and where they are aiming to be that leads to the power of feedback.