'The first fundamental principle of effective classroom feedback is that feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor.' (Dylan Wiliam)

It turns out that this is often a difficult task: actively engaging students in the feedback process. In a previous ECHO Teaching Tip (2022), we discussed the conditions of effective feedback. In this tip, we'll focus more specifically on how you can design your teaching so that students are encouraged to improve their learning through feedback. In other words: how can you ensure that students 'do something' with your feedback and learn from it (see also this ECHO Teaching Tip from 2013)?

A concept that often pops up when talking about actively engaging students in the feedback process is the feedback literacy of students. This is the set of skills that students have at their disposal, enabling them to act on feedback received and to adjust their learning. Such skills include being able to understand criteria and use them to complete an assignment, or being able to evaluate oneself based on criteria. Feedback literacy is also about understanding what feedback is and how to use it effectively (Carless & Boud, 2018; Carless & Winstone, 2020). In what follows, we'll provide you with guidelines and practical tips on how you can work on your students' feedback literacy.

Create awareness of the feedback process

  • Make sure students recognise that feedback can be valuable. Communicate openly about why you're scheduling certain feedback activities, how they work, and what the benefits are. Let students know you expect them to take on a (pro)active role in this, and explain what this will involve specifically.
  • Make them aware that feedback is more than your comments on a submitted assignment: students receive input in different ways and at different times to adjust their learning. A few examples: (1) clarify how students can use predefined criteria to do an assignment well (see this ECHO Teaching Tip from 2021); (2) check your students' understanding by means of a one-minute paper (see this ECHO Teaching Tip from 2015, only in Dutch), a poll (see this ECHO Teaching Tip from 2014), or by having them solve exam questions from previous academic years and then discussing the answers; (3) at the end of a lecture, summarise the most important points to remember. These are all forms of feedback (or 'feed up', see this ECHO Teaching Tip from 2022), even though students often don't realise it.

Ensure that students take on an active role in the feedback process

  • Have students reflect on their learning before they receive feedback, and then again after they've received feedback. Reflection beforehand can be achieved by asking students, after they've completed an assignment, what questions they still have, and which parts of their assignment they would definitely like to receive targeted feedback on. This thinking exercise can be a low-threshold stepping stone to self-evaluation. It also allows you to give more specific and focused feedback, which may even save you some time. The other type of reflection, on feedback received, can be achieved by asking students to what extent they agree with the feedback and how they're going to use the feedback to submit even better assignments in the future.
  • 'It’s very difficult to be excellent if you don’t know what excellent looks like' (Wiliam & Christodoulou, 2017). Using fully elaborated examples, also known as exemplars, you can show students what a properly executed assignment looks like (Carless & Boud, 2018). For instance, you can use the online learning platform to share an outstanding essay, a great presentation or a first-rate solution to a mathematical problem, and then discuss this during your lecture. Students can use the example to check how criteria should be applied, and then self-evaluate to what extent their own work meets these criteria.
  • Have students give each other feedback as well (see also this ECHO Teaching Tip from 2022). Students often consider feedback from their peers to be more accessible and understandable than feedback from lecturers. In addition, having to give peer feedback usually also leads to an improvement of one's own work (Huisman et al., 2019).

Avoid negative reactions or emotions

  • Make it clear that students are allowed to make mistakes. Create a learning climate (see this ECHO Teaching Tip from 2020) where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. This will help students appreciate the added value of feedback. In a positive learning climate, students will also be less likely to react defensively to feedback (Carless & Boud, 2018).
  • Praise the strengths of the submitted work as well. This way, you are more constructive in your feedback as a lecturer. The tone of your comments can also create an unintentionally overall negative image. 

Build feedback literacy into the curriculum

  • Build awareness of the feedback process into the curriculum as early as possible. Start early on with different types of feedback (peer feedback, criterion-based self-assessment, etc.) so that students can gain experience in it and get better at receiving and responding to feedback (Malecka, Boud & Carless, 2020).
  • Design the curriculum so that feedback on assignments can/should be carried over to other (similar) assignments. This obviously requires clear agreements and proper coordination between all teachers involved. Taking previously received feedback into account could even be made a necessary condition for successful completion of subsequent assignments.

Want to know more?

ECHO theme page on Assessment and feedback

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

Carless, D., & Winstone, N. (2020). Teacher feedback literacy and its interplay with student feedback literacy. Teaching in Higher Education, DOI: k literacy, Teaching in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2020.1782372

Huisman, B., Saab, N., van den Broek, P., & van Driel, J. (2019). The impact of formative peer feedback on higher education students’ academic writing: a Meta-Analysis. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(6), 863-880.

Malecka, B., Boud, D & Carless, D. (2020). Eliciting, processing and enacting feedback: mechanisms for embedding student feedback literacy within the curriculum. Teaching in Higher education,  27 (7), 908-922.  

Wiliam, D., & Christodoulou, D. (2017). Assessment, marking & feedback. In Hendrick, C., & Macpherson, R. (2017). What does it look like in the classroom? Bridging the gap between research and practice. John Catt Educational Ltd.

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