Formative Feedback for Deeper Learning

As a middle school and high school choir director, I frequently walked throughout the ensemble during a rehearsal to hear individual members singing their respective parts.  In that real-time setting, I was able to help correct errors in pitch, dynamic, tempo, diction, phrasing, and breathing.  I am convinced that those moments of “in the moment” feedback made our singers and our performances be the best they could possibly be.  

In education speak, my students received formative feedback.  Education Testing Service (ETS) conducted a literature review of formative feedback and produced the research paper Focus on Formative Feedback, which shares the following guidelines for implementing formative feedback:

  1. Focus feedback on the task, not the learner.  Address specific elements of the task and provide specific information about how to improve. 
  2. Provide elaborative feedback to enhance learning.  Feedback should address the what, how, and why of the given task. 
  3. Provide elaborative feedback in manageable units.  Remember to give feedback in bitesize chunks so as not to overwhelm students.
  4. Be specific and clear with feedback messages.  Link feedback to specific elements of the task.
  5. Keep feedback as simple as possible. Make sure your feedback is easily understandable for your students. 
  6. Reduce uncertainty between performance and goals.  Use feedback to clarify and realign student focus on the overarching goals.
  7. Give unbiased, objective feedback in writing.  Written feedback conveys a certain trustworthiness and can be reviewed multiple times throughout the process.
  8. Promote learning goal orientation.  Emphasize the fact that continued efforts will yield results and acknowledge that mistakes are part of the process.
  9. Provide feedback after learners have attempted a solution.  

As you prepare for next week, consider ways you might incorporate these elements into your feedback routine.  You and your students will be glad you did!

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