Assessment for Learning III: Effective Feedback

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Prof. Glenn Fulcher




This is the third in a series of features on Classroom Assessment. See also:
Assessment for Learning I: Introduction &
Assessment for Learning II: Effective Questioning

7 Principles of Effective Feedback
In this video, Dylan Wiliam explains that a consideration of effective feedback was the starting point of the Assessment for Learning movement. It all started with an observation. Namely that some kinds of feedback did not work, while others did. Feedback that is "ego centred" - or directed towards the individual tends to have little or no effect on learning. This is especially the case if there is direct comparison with others in the class. However, if the feedback is "task centred" - focusing on how well a task has been performed and what could be done to improve performance, the feedback has a measurable impact on learning. The first principle of effective feedback in Assessment for Learning is therefore to focus on the task and what is required for successful completion, rather on the individual.

The second principle is that the feedback should be positive about current performance, thus giving a sense of achievement. This is directly linked to the third principle, which is to make the learner aware of what specific actions they can take in order to improve the performance. This provides the learner with a target for improvement and, critically, the information needed to make the necessary improvement.

In order to achieve this, it is necessary to provide the learner with the right amount of feedback. Often, teachers give too much detail, particularly in the case of feedback on writing. Learners can only process so much feedback at one time if they are to take action on it. The feedback must therefore be given in moderation for it to be effective. The fourth principle is therefore to give feedback that a learner can process and use effectively in the next stage of learning.

The fifth principle is to give the feedback at an appropriate time for effective action to be taken. Usually, the closer the feedback is given to the communicative performance, or the production of a piece of written work, the more effective it will be.

The sixth principle is to give time for the learner to contemplate and understand the feedback, which requires planning classroom time for contemplation and further planning; and the seventh principle is to check that the learner has understood the feedback, and has understood what they can do to make improvement.

Feedback does not only come from the teacher. It can come from family or friends, but it has been found to be especially valuable from peers. Research shows that peer-assessment has a number of benefits to learning. It helps learners to become aware of what makes a good performance, and how to evaluate the difference between better and poorer performances. This awareness can then lead to an ability to self-assess, and therefore become an autonomous learner. This is perhaps the ultimate goal: learning how to learn independently.

However, quality peer-assessment does not just "happen". The first step for the teacher is to train students in peer-assessment techniques. This usually involves discussing and explaining the criteria that can be used for evaluating the quality of performances. Teachers then model better and poorer performances, applying the criteria to show how they can be applied to the classification or ordering of the models. Time is given for learners to identify issues with these models, before they move on to rank ordering (or marking) further samples, and discussing reasons for the order or mark with their peers. One of the critical issues is selecting appropriate criteria for use. Sometimes these will come directly from an examination board or a Ministry of Education. However, it is possible for teachers to develop their own criteria that place value on specific aspects of speaking or writing that they want their learners to concentrate on. These could even be developed with learners. Alternatively it is possible to look at possible "off the peg" criteria that are contained in existing rating instruments. For speaking, see the examples in Fulcher (2003).

Finally, teachers are required to provide training in giving peer-feedback. This draws on the principles above, fousing on being positive, and providing detailed feedback that draws on the criteria for assessment. Watch the video on peer-assessment, which provides a wealth of ideas. Pay careful attention to the requirement that peer-feedback also suggests targets for the partner to aim for in order to improve their work. Note also that feedback can initially be given in the L1, but as learners become more confident this can be done in the L2.

Creating good peer-assessment and feedback within the classroom can be time consuming, and once in place it has to be regularly built into lesson planning. But all research shows that this is a key tactic to improving language learning within instructional settings.


The videos to which we provide links on this page were originally made by Teacher's TV, and are now distributed on the internet by the Ministry of Education in the United Kingdom.

Other Websites of Interest

Effective Feedback for EFL Language Learners

Further Reading

Brookhart, S. M. (2009). How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students. Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.

Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the Theory of Formative Assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability 1(1).

Fulcher, G. (2003). Testing Second Language Speaking. London: Longman/Pearson Education.

Price, M., Handley, K., Millar, J, and O'Donvan, B. (2010). Feedback: all that effort, but what is the effect? Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 35(3), 277 - 289.

Mackey, A. (2006). Feedback, Noticing and Instructed Second Language Learning Applied Linguistics 27(3), 405 - 430.

Glenn Fulcher
March 2013 (Updated January 2016)