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Does feedback enhance learning?

Each month I meet with a group of faculty in the New Faculty Academy to discuss chapters in the book How Learning Works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching (Susan Ambrose, Michael Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha Lovette, Marie Norman). Our discussions allow us to do a deep dive into our classroom practices, and because the faculty come from different disciplines and teaching experiences, there are always rich conversations that enhance our own learning.

Recently we discussed the chapter “What kinds of practice and feedback enhance learning?” There are 2 kinds of feedback that we tend to give students: formative and summative. Many of us rely solely on summative feedback, such as exams, projects, or papers. I recently heard someone describe the case of relying on exams alone as doing an “autopsy” on student work. Formative assessment is a way, as the authors state, to focus on ways to help students “work smarter.” The authors believe that “feedback plays” a critical role in “keeping learners’ practice moving toward improvement.”  Formative feedback that you might be familiar with would include things like the minute paper or the PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter feedback. Both of these address student learning and allow the instructor to make changes in their classroom practice in real time. Using the minute paper at the end of a class asking students to summarize the main ideas of the day allows an instructor to reflect on whether they were successful in getting those main ideas across. A PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter assessment allows students to comment on what’s working in the class to promote their learning (PLUS) and what changes they’d like to see in the class to help them learn better (DELTA).

Here is a short list of the strategies that the authors suggest for targeted feedback:

  • Look for patterns of errors in student work
  • Prioritize your feedback
  • Provide feedback at the group level
  • Design frequent opportunities to give feedback
  • Require students to specify how they used feedback in subsequent work

Of these, I am most interested in knowing whether you have ever used the last type of feedback. Would this be valuable to you, the instructor, and to students? Do you think it would help students to connect the dots between different assignments?

If you’d like to learn more about other kinds of formative assessments, please connect with me!