Three tips for enhancing students’ engagement with feedback

In my many years of experience as an educator I have spent innumerable hours in writing feedback for students’ work. I always thought this was one of the most important elements of my role as a teacher, where I had the opportunity to provide personalised guidance to students and connect with them on an individual basis.

But the truth is that not all students engage with feedback and perhaps more crucially not all are able to apply the feedback to the next assessment.

Why does this happen? In a recent discussion I had with students, one of them mentioned, and I paraphrase: “You don’t need feedback for exams, if you pass them”. So is it clear to students what is the purpose of feedback?

According to Carless and Boud (2018) feedback is

the process through which learners make sense of information from various sources and use it to enhance their work or learning strategies”.

As such, feedback is not something static but a dynamic process that aims to shape an individual’s performance. So what can we do to help students engage with the feedback and enhance their feedback literacy?

Tip 1: Know the value of the feedback you give, make it explicit and clearly communicate that to the students in advance.

First and foremost, as feedback providers, we need to be able to clearly identify the value of the feedback we give. Can the students apply that feedback to another piece of work, would it help them to improve their performance? And if so, do we know when and where the students will need to apply that feedback?

Or are the things that the students didn’t quite get right in this piece of work, only relevant for that module and for that assessment? And as such, the comment from the student above was actually valid? They passed the exam, and the rest is history now.

If we can ourselves clarify and identify the value of the feedback we give, we can then help the students make those connections as well.

Tip 2: Provide opportunities for giving, receiving and analysing feedback.

But even if we can make this clear to students, how can we ensure that the students can break down the feedback, analyse it, and devise their own strategies for improving their performance?

Here is where developing students’ feedback literacy comes into play. Feedback literacy has been seen as “the understandings, capacities and dispositions needed” (Carless and Boud 2018) in order to be able to respond to feedback. We need to guide students in the process of understanding the feedback, as well enabling them to internalise the feedback to become self-regulated learners (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

Several strategies are available to achieve this.

Firstly, by clearly defining the way that students’ work is assessed, through discussion and analysis of marking criteria early on.

Secondly, by offering opportunities to students to compare their work with the work of others (for instance through exemplars, or peer marking activities). By applying the marking criteria themselves, students will be able to identify what areas they need to work on and how to improve their own work.

Finally, by enabling dialogue and discussions (among peers or between students-staff), we can share examples of strategies on how to apply feedback and what actions need to be taken for further improvement.

If you have used any of these strategies in your teaching, feel free to share your experience in the comments.

Tip 3: Provide a supportive well-planned learning environment

Although  there are strategies to support students to develop their feedback literacy skills, Gravett (2020) argues that feedback literacy is better “conceptualised as a complex breadth of dynamic, nuanced, situated feedback literacies” through a sociomaterial lens, where factors such as space, time and power-relations come into play. These factors will vary significantly among students, especially when considering how diverse and heterogenous the student population is.

It is important, therefore, that faculty also aims to provide a supportive and well-planned learning environment that takes into consideration the medium, the space and the time that feedback is given and analysed by the students, as well as who is providing the feedback. Establishing a supportive, caring relationship with students is important to allow students to be receptive to feedback and not scared of it.

What strategies could we use for that? What are the limitations? Add your thoughts in the comments.

In summary, what we need  to remember as feedback providers is that our students will be receiving feedback in a variety of forms and from a variety of sources, but for them to engage with the feedback they will need to identify its value, be able to decipher it and be in the right environment to engage with it. We may not be able to address all of these factors directly, but considering them when planning our teaching may help us navigate through the complexities of students’ engagement with feedback.

References:

Carless, D. and Boud, D. (2018) The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43:8, 1315-1325, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354

Gravett, K. (2020) Feedback literacies as sociomaterial practice, Critical Studies in Education, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2020.1747099

Nicol, D.J., and Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice, Studies in Higher Education, 31:2, 199-218, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572090

Disclaimer: This is an opinion-based post and is not representative of views held by the University of Sussex.  

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