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Does teacher feedback actually make students perform worse?

Updated: Feb 22, 2019

Enough for a teacher to leave the profession

Before the days we adopted ‘live marking’, we had some interesting conversations with our teachers with regards to how they approached marking in general. Our teachers did not hold back…

  • It takes me so much time - it’s not like maths where you can just put ticks and crosses!

  • It gets particularly challenging just before a SLT feedback scrutiny

  • I end up writing more than the students

  • ...the problem is, most of them don’t bother reading the feedback I provide!

  • I’m sleeping less because of it. I know lots of teachers have left profession for this reason

  • I almost fell backward on the staircase from carrying the amount of books I had to mark

  • On Christmas day, I had to hide from my family and sneak in some marking before lunch was served

The situation was dire. Our teachers’ wellbeing was important. Feedback was important. We knew we had to be radical.

Creating a cultural shift

The challenge was not simply to introduce a new way of providing feedback, but to get our teachers understand why we wanted to do this. So we posed the following questions to them:

  • Why do we provide feedback? Is it to genuinely move students forward or to please our superiors?

  • What does effective feedback look like?

  • When providing feedback, who should be working harder?

  • Is there a correlation between student/teacher rapport and the quality of student response to feedback?

  • Is it possible to provide meaningful feedback and reduce workload at the same time?

The answer to the last question is, yes. And the answers to the other questions follow.

We adopted two distinct approaches:

  1. Live marking

  2. DPR key objectives feedback

1. Live marking

This is done every lesson where teachers provide written feedback whilst the students are working independently. Students love the instant gratification. Students know how to move on.

We know it’s working well if the following is evident:

  • Misconceptions identified/ highlighted

  • Target codes can be used to help students know what to do next

  • Students should respond to correct misconceptions or re-draft work in order to improve (fix it time)

  • A differentiated level of feedback is evident for underachievers

2. DPR Key Objective feedback

Feedback given to students through the DPR whether through text or DPR Voice:

We know it’s working well if the following are evident:

  • Feedback is given against KOs the students are struggling with after they have been taught

  • Time is saved and therefore workload is reduced as a result of using DPR Voice feedback

  • Student response is seen as a result of teacher feedback

  • Languages subjects use the DPR Voice feature to engage students

  • DPR Voice feedback is used with students who find reading difficult

  • A differentiated level of feedback is evident for underachievers

Counter-productive feedback

Feedback studies conducted between 1905 and 1995, Kluger and DeNisi (1996) found that in 38% of well-designed studies, feedback actually made performance worse—one of the most counterintuitive results in all of psychology.’

The reasons for this are all too common, the reasons ranges from:

  • Providing abstract feedback, such as grades, which doesn’t really tell students what to do in order to improve

  • Communicating the ranking of student performance based on test results, which can often demotivate students

  • Taking ‘ability’ of students for granted and failing to nurture/encouraging students to work hard to ensure progress made is maintained

  • Teachers not realising the importance of student-teacher rapport and how this helps with students giving attention to teacher feedback and responding to them

  • And finally, as evidence in the EEF findings, feedback being most effective if it is timely and specific

With our two pronged approach to meaningful feedback, we make sure progress happens. Our English department pioneered live marking and secured the students a P8 score of 1.9+ last year. Our whole school approach to providing meaningful feedback has meant our students achieve at least 1 grade better than their national counterparts.

Further reading:



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