We all do it, most of the time automatically, and yet in many instances it might have little benefit for the students involved. Feedback is right up there as one of the most cost-effective strategies teachers can employ to support students’ learning but only when it is done well. As Hattie and Timperley said in their article, The Power of Feedback: “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative.” The EEF agree “Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning. However, it also has a very high range of effects and some studies show that feedback can have negative effects and make things worse. It is therefore important to understand the potential benefits and the possible limitations of the approach”

Some of the messages from research can be counter-intuitive. One review suggests that

“…delaying, reducing, and summarizing feedback can be better for long-term learning than providing immediate, trial-by-trial feedback. … Numerous studies—some of them dating back decades—have shown that frequent and immediate feedback can, contrary to intuition, degrade learning. However, the very feedback schedules that facilitate learning can have negligible (or even detrimental) performance effects during the acquisition phase.” Soderstrom and Bjork (2013)

It is also clear that the students’ perceptions of the process are a key factor in whether feedback ‘works’ – does the student have the right ‘mindset’: “It’s up to me. I can do something about it”

It seems very hard to get right and we’ll be considering what effective feedback might look like in our context this Tuesday. In the meantime here’s a brief summary:

Feedback is more effective


  • when it provides information on correct, rather than incorrect responses, and when it builds upon a change the student has made.
  • when learning goals are specific and challenging enough to entice a student’s commitment, but the task complexity is low.
  • when learning goals are clearly defined for the student, and the student accepts them as being valid (i.e. worth the investment of effort).
  • if it features as written comments rather than grades.
  • when a student is confident they have the correct response, and it turns out to be incorrect.
  • when it identifies the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ students demonstrate comprehension and clarifies the strategies they must take to improve.
  • when it is clear, purposeful, meaningful, compatible with the student’s prior knowledge and provides logical connections towards ways to improve.
  • when the feedback offers little threat to a student’s self-esteem (i.e. is not directed negatively at their character) – so feedback from a computer had a higher positive impact than from a human teacher


Feedback is less effective when:


  • students were lacking confidence in their response in the first place, and it turns out to be incorrect.
  • it focuses on praise about the student’s character traits (“Your intelligence really comes through here….”)
  • it is made public. 64% of students prefer praise being quiet and private.
  • less confident students have their shortcomings identified – deciphered as being caused by external factors, or seen as widespread amongst the peer group.
  • feedback is poorly presented or if a student’s knowledge/understanding is insufficient to incorporate it into their subsequent actions.



Here is a useful post from David Didau to get you thinking:



Simple praise is a good example of poor feedback. It draws attention to the self and so increases students' fear of failure.

Simple praise is a good example of poor feedback. It draws attention to the self and so increases students’ fear of failure.