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The key principles to effective feedback

Written by: Michael Chiles
5 min read
Michael Chiles, Geography Trust Lead, Great Schools Trust, UK

Every academic year, pupils receive feedback verbally and in written form, based on evidence interpreted by teachers from hundreds of assignments, assessments, practice exams, questioning and classroom activities. Feedback can play a pivotal role in learning. However, the research indicates that there is a significant difference between giving and receiving feedback, and that then being acted upon.

Take a moment to consider the feedback that you have provided recently to students. How much of that feedback was heard? Did it make the ‘sound’ that you intended it to make?

Unless we create the conditions for students to want to actively receive feedback and then act on it, it will not have the intended positive impact on learning. Shute’s report on formative feedback (2007) highlights the fact that good feedback has the potential to significantly improve learning outcomes, but only if delivered in the correct way. Giving feedback might be easy, but creating the conditions for the recipient to want to receive and then act on it is more challenging.

Principle 1: How can teachers deliver feedback in a timely manner?

There is a tendency for schools to create fixed timeframes around when specific pieces of work should receive feedback. The problem with this approach is that all too often the focus is placed heavily on these pieces of work, whilst other forms of feedback become redundant. Researchers have conflicting views about the use of immediate or delayed feedback. For example, Soderstrom and Bjork (2014) indicate that delaying feedback is more beneficial for long-term learning than providing instant feedback, while Phye and Andre (1989) have argued that efficient retention is more likely to result from earlier feedback. This variation in the effectiveness of immediate versus delayed feedback led Corbett and Anderson (2001) to ascertain that which of these approaches should be applied is determined by the task. Immediate feedback can be more effective for developing procedural skills, such as those used in maths, whereas delaying feedback can be more beneficial for encouraging the transfer of learning into new contexts (Corbett and Anderson, 2001).

Principle 2: Why is it important to establish a receptive culture?

The art of giving feedback should not be underestimated, because no matter how skilful we feel that our delivery of feedback to someone is, the person on the receiving end may just reject it. Evidence suggests that students would rather be seen as lazy than stupid because this provides them with a more credible excuse for failing in front of their peers. David Didau (2014) suggests that this is because people believe that effort is perceived as flexible, whereas intelligence is thought of as fixed. Therefore, creating a culture where students want to receive feedback is important. The first step to creating this receptive culture is underpinned by the relationships that we form with our students. If students feel that making mistakes is part of the learning process, this can support their willingness to receive feedback and act upon it. Guidance provided to students should focus on the performance related to the task and not that of the individual.

Principle 3: How can a granular approach to feedback support learning?

To create a ‘feedback pull’ (Stone and Heen, 2014), students need to know that the next steps are within their reach. In the past, providing extensive written comments on students’ work with several targets was hailed as exemplary practice. The quantity of marking was king over the quality. The 2016 DfE Independent Workload Review highlighted some of the key issues around extensive written marking, including:

  • extensive reliance on labour-intensive written comments using different-coloured pens
  • often disjointed from the learning process, failing to help pupils to improve their understanding
  • can be dispiriting for teacher and pupil, reducing motivation and resilience
  • can be unmanageable for teachers, with unrealistic deadlines.

An emphasis on high-stakes marking can result in pupils pushing back against this form of feedback. Instead, a granular, razor-sharp approach provides pupils with clear action steps that direct them on how to improve. An example of a granular target in history would be: ‘Remember, when analysing a source, you should do the following…’

Principle 4: Why is self-regulation an important part of the feedback process?

Feedback is a two-way process. We give, we receive and then we want our students to follow it up by actioning it. When giving feedback to our students, we want them to be actively involved in the learning process so that they have a clear understanding of how to improve. This is where self-regulated learning through strategies such as guided feedback can support students in generating a greater awareness of how to improve. The example below provides a suggestion for how teachers can guide feedback:

  1. The teacher identifies the common misconceptions across the responses produced by the class
  2. The teacher shares a model response, with an example taken from one of the pupils
  3. Pupils then annotate the model response, considering three key questions directed by the teacher
  4. Pupils then work to consider how they could improve their own response through a feed-forward task.

Kostons et al. (2012, p. 3) defined self-regulated learning as ‘an active and constructive process in which a learner plans, monitors, and exerts control over his or her own learning process’.

Following a synthesis of research, the Education Endowment Foundation (2018) released seven key recommendations for promoting self-regulated learning:

  1. Teachers should acquire the professional understanding and skills necessary to develop their pupils’ metacognitive knowledge
  2. Explicitly teach pupils metacognitive strategies, including how to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning
  3. Model your thinking to help pupils to develop their metacognitive and cognitive skills
  4. Set an appropriate level of challenge to develop pupils’ self-regulation and metacognition
  5. Promote and develop metacognitive talk in the classroom
  6. Explicitly teach pupils how to organise and effectively manage their learning independently
  7. Schools should support teachers to develop their knowledge of these approaches and expect them to be applied appropriately.

Feedback can be a fundamental cog in driving learning, but this will be dependent on teachers and school leaders creating the right conditions, where pupils want to receive, seek out and action the feedback that they are given. The four principles outlined in this article provide guidance for how these conditions for effective feedback can be implemented to support learning.


Corbett AT and Anderson JR (2001) Locus of feedback control in computer-based tutoring: Impact on learning rate, achievement and attitudes. In: Jacko J, Sears A, Beaudouin-Lafon M et al. (eds) Proceedings of ACM CHI’2001 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. New York: ACM Press, pp. 245–252.

Didau D (2014) Getting feedback right Part 3: How can we increase pupils’ effort? In: David Didau. Available at: (accessed 26 March 2021).

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (2018) Metacognition and self-regulated learning guidance report. Available at: (accessed 26 March 2021).

Department for Education (DfE) (2016) Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking: Independent Teacher Workload Review Group Report. Available at: (accessed 26 March 2021).

Kostons D, van Gog T and Paas F (2012) Training self-assessment and task selection skills: A cognitive approach to improving self-regulated learning. Learning and Instruction 22(2): 121–132.

Phye GD and Andre T (1989) Delayed retention effect: Attention, perseveration, or both? Contemporary Educational Psychology 14(2): 173–185.

Shute VJ (2007) Focus on formative feedback. Educational Testing Service. Available at: (accessed 23 March 2021).

Soderstrom NC and Bjork RA (2014) Learning versus performance: An integrative review. Perspectives on Psychological Science 10(2): 176–199.

Stone D and Heen S (2014) Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well. London: Penguin.

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