Evidence-Based Learning at School

Feedback makes the learning apparent

Both of the meta-studies by John Hattie and Robert Marzano single out feedback as being especially effective. The effect magnitude is on the order of 0.73 (Hattie), whilst some feedback styles, for instance, peer feedback, achieve effect magnitudes of over 0.9 (Marzano).

What is feedback?

Briefly, this refers to feedback given to a person in relation to observed behaviour of their conduct. This can apply both to a person’s behaviour in a social setting as well as to their ability to handle a particular task.

Why is feedback effective?

The learner receives an indication as to which direction they need to develop in to enable them to reach a predefined goal as well as information as to how they will need to adapt their learning strategies for this purpose. Moreover, feedback appeals to a person’s emotions. A learner’s self-esteem and their sense of self-assurance are increased when they receive positive feedback as to their abilities. But it’s not just the learner who receives feedback as the teacher also learns the effectiveness of their educational strategies. Feedback helps make the learning apparent to teachers and grants them access to their pupil’s perspective on this which allows them to make informed decisions about how to act next.

What does effective feedback for pupils look like?

Feedback isn’t simply feedback: There are well-established feedback styles which provide a response, but, ultimately, are of little use when it comes to learners and aligning their behaviour so as to allow them to attain their predefined goals. All types of graded tests (summative feedback) belong to this category, which, whilst they do give information about a pupil’s current performance level – just seeing the corrections themselves – often provides little in the way of any help in highlighting a pupil’s particular strengths and weaknesses.

Even a teacher’s feedback, whether a sigh or even blanket praise (“All of you performed that task well”) is proven to be ineffective in teaching.

Feedback that’s effective in teaching is given in a specific form (formative feedback) and it bridges the gap between a pupil’s initial starting point and their sought-after goal. Above all, it provides the learner with steps that enable them to achieve this sought-after goal, alongside corrections and critiques of their work.

To this end it encompasses these 4 tiers:

I.   The task itself,
II.  The learning process,
III. Self-discipline,
IV. The person as a whole

And it provides answers to these 3 fundamental questions:

1. What is the goal?
2. How do I get there? What progress have I made towards that goal?
3. What is the next step and what strategies do I need to make use of to ensure that I make even better progress?

Tier I: Feedback on the task
Feedback in this tier is most commonly found in classroom situations. In this way the learner receives specific information as to how well they have solved or understood a particular task and what, if anything, is still incorrect.

Example: “Your task here was the addition of 2 fractions; you need to have first found the lowest-common denominator, which you also did well. You have, however, made a mistake doing the following expansion for the second numerator. Take care that you expand both numerators.”

Tier II: Feedback on the learning process
This tier is concerned with developing problem solving strategies. The feedback here helps towards deeper learning. To this end there’s a strong interplay between feedback on the task itself (self-confidence, certainty in solving tasks) and feedback from the learning process.

Example: “… You need to compare 2 approaches to solving the problem. For example, you can consider at exactly which point both approaches begin diverging from one another. Which one allows you to reach your goal quickest?”

Tier III: Feedback on self-discipline
Learners should use the feedback on their self-discipline to cause them to pause and to critically evaluate their own learning process, and when tasked with more complex exercises, this feedback should enable them to motivate themselves to continue working on the task at hand. Moreover, learners who can critically reflect on their own learning style are able to use feedback better to work towards a set goal.

Example: “… You had checked your answer against the solutions sheet and discovered that it was incorrect. Can you think of where this error lies? Do you, perhaps, know of any other strategies that would lead you to the correct solution?”

Tier IV: Feedback on the person as a whole
This form of feedback is widely known by the term “praise”: “You did that really well! You are a great pupil, keep up the good work!” The problem is that feedback of this kind is very often used in an inflationary way and in that way it’s completely divorced from the actual task at hand. It is important, therefore, that praise is always linked to providing precise feedback of tiers I – III.


According to Schröck we can summarise the following features of efficient feedback: by providing the feedback a pupil is made aware of their own learning progress and process (or learning style). To this end, prompt feedback needs to be provided after the task has been attempted. This feedback, however, should be kept concise and adapted to your pupil’s learning needs as well as to the particular task under study, whilst also focusing on the most important learning goals. It is important that the evaluation criteria, on which the feedback is based, are clear to the learner. And: feedback should be given to pupils on a regular basis.

Sources and further links:

Hattie (2012): Visual Learning for Teachers
Marzano, R.J. et al (2001) Classroom Instruction that Works. ASCD, USA
Schröck: Feedback als Wegweiser für schulischen Lernerfolg, (Vortrag bei MiB-Tutorentagung 2015 in Kaufering)
Deflorio: Wichtige Schritte für lernwirksames Feedback, http://www.deflorio.de
Petty (2009): Evidence Based Teaching.
Petty: Feedback, http://geoffpetty.com/for-teachers/feedback-and-questions/