June 18, 2021

EEF: Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning

In this article Emma Adcock highlights the first two recommendations from EEF’s publication on ‘Teacher Feedback to Improve Learning’. The report provides teachers with an easily accessible guide to harnessing the power of feedback to improve classroom learning.

Like many, I have been eagerly awaiting the EEF’s publication on ‘Teacher Feedback to Improve Learning’, and this document is everything I hoped it would be. By drawing together the relevant research, the report provides teachers with an easily accessible guide to harnessing the power of feedback to improve classroom learning.

As teachers we all understand the importance and the impact that meaningful feedback can have in supporting pupil progress, consolidating learning, and closing the gap between where a pupil is and where the teacher wants them to be.
In a nutshell, this guidance report aims to enable teachers to focus on what really matters: the principles of good feedback rather than the method of delivery.

In this series of summer term blogs, I will be summarising the central messages that run throughout the guidance. They state that teachers should:

  1. Lay the foundations for effective feedback, with high-quality teaching that includes careful formative assessment
  2. Deliver appropriately timely feedback, that focuses on moving learning forward
  3. Plan how pupils will receive the feedback using strategies to ensure that pupils will act on the feedback offered.

If schools are to deliver these guiding principles effectively, they require a carefully designed and thoughtfully implemented feedback policy.

Principle 1: Lay the foundations for effective feedback.

Teachers need to provide high quality instruction which includes the use of two formative assessment strategies which set learning intentions and assess learning gaps which feedback will address.

Let us define ‘high-quality instruction’. High quality instruction includes the following:

  • It builds on pupils’ prior knowledge
  • Avoids overloading pupils’ working memory
  • A well sequenced curriculum which teaches essential knowledge, skills, concepts, and vocabulary
  • Explicit teacher modelling and scaffolds to support learning
  • Provides pupils with strategies to plan, monitor and evaluate their own learning.

Sharing Learning Intentions

First, we need to have a clear idea of what we intend our pupils to learn. We must also ensure that the task will enable pupils to achieve the learning objective. (Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy offer several suggestions in ‘Embedding Formative Assessment).

  • Share with pupils anonymised examples of other children’s work. Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the work and use this discussion to construct a rubric
  • Share excellent examples of previous pupils’ work; discuss what makes this work high quality
  • What not to write – discuss with the class a list of ‘what not to write’.

Eliciting evidence of Learning in the classroom

Effective questioning enables the teacher to assess pupil understanding and determine what feedback needs to be provided.

Teachers need to assess the whole class’ understanding of a topic, which may then inform the feedback offered. For quick checks, consider the use of mini whiteboards or thumbs up or down. ‘Hinge point’ questions also offer valuable evidence to the teacher. At the end of a lesson, pupil exit tickets may be useful to drive subsequent learning.

Whatever task is being undertaken, the teacher should ask themselves, ‘Will the task reveal what the pupil is thinking, and can I use this to give feedback?’

Principle 2: Deliver appropriately timed feedback that focuses on moving learning forward.

The research presented in the EEF guidance is inconclusive regarding the optimum time for when feedback should be provided. It may therefore be inappropriate for feedback policies to state exactly when feedback should be given. 69% of primary teachers surveyed stated that their school feedback policies explicitly stated the frequency of written feedback.

To guide this judgement, teachers should consider three things:

  1. The Task
  2. The Pupil
  3. The Class.

Focusing feedback on moving learning forward

Compared to the timing of feedback, the evidence of what to focus feedback on may offer a clearer message. High-quality feedback that focuses on:
The task (its outcome and advice on how to improve)

KS1 example

The teacher asks, can you use the balance scales again and see which item is the heaviest?

KS2 example

The teacher says many of you are identifying the bulbs and wires in this circuit. Can you also label the switches and the cells?
The subject (the underlying processes within that subject)

KS1 example

A child is struggling with letter formation. The teacher says, “remember we start a ‘d’ by doing a letter ‘c’ shape. Let’s try that again.”

KS2 example

In history, pupils are debating whether Boudicca was a hero. The teacher notes that not enough historical terminology is being used. The teacher says, “I want you to use a specialist term we’ve learned, such as ‘rebellion’”.
Self-regulation (how pupils plan, monitor and evaluate their work)

KS1 example

The teacher says, “we need to be finishing our portraits in the next fifteen minutes, do you think you will be able to finish?”

KS2 example

The teacher says, “Look at our display of strategies that we’ve used to solve problems we’ve tackled in the past. I think one of those could help you solve this problem.”

Debates over praise

Regardless of whether a teacher chooses to give grades, offer praise, or comment on effort, the feedback they give on learning is more likely to be effective at improving pupil attainment if it includes a focus on the task, subject, and/or self-regulation strategies. It is less likely to be effective it focuses on a learner’s personal characteristics or provides a general or vague comment.

In the second blog, I will be focusing on the guiding principles of principles 3 and 4:

  • Plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback.
  • Carefully consider how to use purposeful, and time-efficient, written feedback.

Emma Adcock
Director of Training and Research

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