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Are They Learning? Formative Feedback

Submitted by on May 21, 2012 – 4:31 pmNo Comment

Why is Formative Feedback important? “Formative Assessment involves using assessment information to feed back into the teaching/learning process.  Some believe that assessment is only truly formative if it involves the pupil …” (Gipps 1994)

What are the researchers saying? Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback: In getting started, students need help in assessing their existing knowledge and competence. Then, in classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive feedback on their performance. At various points during college, and at its end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how they might assess themselves.

What can we do about it? Give formative feedback! Its purpose is to help the student improve their future work and prevent them from making the same mistakes again. It is useless if feedback comes back too late in the semester. Grades do not equal feedback. For students, high quality feedback consists of following three things:

  • A clear criterion against which to judge feedback comments.
  • Comments that are detailed and related to specific aspects of their work.
  • Comments that are improvement focused.

What tools are available within a Learning Management System for feedback? We believe almost all tools can be used for feedback.

Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) were created to encourage instructors to systematically and directly observe and assess learning within the classroom. Use of these techniques provides timely and specific feedback on the status of student’s learning and understanding (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Use of regular feedback mechanisms can allow input that can help instructors proactively react to teaching and learning issues. Data from these techniques serve as one replacement for the cues absent in the online environment.

Fast Feedback

Create a ½ to one page handout with

Create a Feedback Code Sheet

  • Craft generic responses to common errors in student work; praise starters
  • Keep these responses in a document
  • Copy and paste as needed

“I received your assignment and will look it over later. I will respond later and provide some suggestions and comments. I look forward to having time to look over your work to see how you feel about the assignment topic.” “I received your assignment and will get it back to you later. Thanks!”

Sample CATs and Tools

Muddiest Point – Quiz Tool or Email “What did you like best about this section? What part of this section was the most confusing to you?”
The Virtual Classroom or Chat for Feedback The virtual classroom and chat functions can be used to administer virtual, oral examinations for students to provide feedback on student understanding. Online chats. Instructor uses chat function at specified time to quiz students, generally one-on-one-a more time-consuming approach but instructors can determine student progress.
Discussion Board Original Discussion Question “PRINCIPLE 1: GOOD PRACTICE ENCOURAGES STUDENT-FACULTY CONTACT: A first time online instructor (who did not go through this particular course) received several students’ evaluations with negative comments about expectations for the course. These comments included mention of posted contact hours, instructor’s absence from discussions, assignment due dates, etc. She is upset about the comments. Based on the information you now have about the importance of communicating expectations for an online course, post your suggestions to how the instructor could improve the course before the next time it is offered. After posting your initial post, you should respond to at least two other classmates, positively affirming their responses.” “Ashley – This is so true: “A bad communicator can create a negative online experience no matter how well the course is laid out.” I completed an online graduate course at UNT. The instructor (who shall remain nameless) posted a syllabus with assigned chapters to read from the textbook, 12 power points, and 4 tests. On the syllabus, he stated he does not use the discussion board in online classes. He also said he would check e-mail once every other week. He also said not to call him. It is an example of how to not make yourself available to students. Sadly students were very lost and never got help from this professor. We did try to help each other, though!”Acknowledge good threads in a discussion to help students know they are on track. Acknowledge exceptional postings. Feedback includes steering a “discussion gone bad” back on topic.Consider creating a thread for each class that asks for the information for either the Muddiest Point or the One-Minute paper.
E-Mail Students email you after each class or certain classes.
Messaging Feature It is relatively easy to send a message to individual students to clarify points in the class.
One-Sentence Summary This technique combines summary, synthesis, and mnemonics into a single exercise. Students are expected to write a sentence (it will be a long one) that addresses: who, what, to whom, when, where, how and why about a specific topic. Students are to write a grammatically correct sentence that follows who, what, to whom, when, where, how and why pattern. Students can use e-mail, the discussion board, and several other tools within Blackboard to send their one-sentence summary to you.
Comments on Assignments Feedback can be delivered by downloading student assignments to your desktop and using Track Changes and Comments features in MS Word. General feedback on assignments can use the e-mail feature of Blackboard to send personal feedback to students.
Student Focus Group Student volunteers can provide valuable data on the progress of the course and suggestions for improving the course.
Survey Manager as a Feedback Tool Test Manager as a Feedback Tool Early Course Assessment or Survey; Practice quizzes provide feedback to students. POST PREVIOUS TESTS and include remarks, suggestions, and grade given.
One-Minute Paper For the One-Minute Paper, consider having students respond to you to let you know the most important thing learned in the class and the one thing that was the most difficult to understand. By requiring this regular feedback and expecting questions from all students (not just those bold enough to ask), the instructor is preventing confusion from impeding learning, and causing students to reflect on their own learning process.
Rubric Rubrics provide an immediate reference point for student self assessment. Here’s a critical thinking rubric.


AAHE. (1996) 9 principles of good practice for assessing student learning. Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education

Angelo, T & Cross, K (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gipps, C (1994).  Beyond testing: Towards a theory of educational assessment.  London.  The Falmer Press.

Harlen, W (1998).  Classroom assessment: A dimension of purposes and procedures.  Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the NZARE, Dunedin, December.

Hattie, J (1999).  Influences on student learning.  Inaugural Lecture. Professor of Education, University of Auckland, August 2002.

Wiggins, G (1998).  Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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