I recently took a pedagogical course in Assessment, grading and feedback in relation to teaching in higher education, and one topic that stood out to me as particularly interesting was the role of feedback for learning. Did you know that research shows that receiving feedback is essential for learning and considered the most powerful means of enhancing student achievements? Still, many teachers experience challenges in their feedback practice such as students not recognizing the value of feedback or students exhibiting defensive responses to feedback. In relation to these challenges, feedback literacy has been introduced by the research arena of higher education studies as a concept describing the ability to interpret and to make productive use of feedback.
A well-cited paper by Carless and Boud describes how many students struggle with understanding, interpreting, and using feedback effectively and the authors emphasize that we as teachers need to help them develop this skill of feedback literacy. To support us in this, they provide a framework suggesting that a set of three interrelated features underpin students’ ability to take action in response to feedback. The three features are:
- Appreciating feedback: understanding and appreciating that feedback aims at improving the work
- Making judgments: developing self-evaluative capacities to make sound judgments about one’s own work as well as the work of others
- Managing affect: avoiding defensiveness when receiving critical feedback and developing habits of striving for continuous improvement based on internal and external feedback.
This leaves the important question of how teachers, such as myself and my colleagues in the HTO group, can support the development of these skills in our students. In the paper, the authors highlight for example the use of peer feedback as a learning activity which explicitly aims towards the development of students’ feedback literacy. The idea is that to provide peer feedback exposes the students to the work of others which helps them compare between their own work and the work of their peers. Which, in turn, benefits the ability to self-evaluate their own production. Providing feedback to peers could also be helpful for students to see that feedback aims to help and suggest solutions and improvements.
Another strategy, and something I believe is important, is to model the uptake of feedback in front of our students. This could be done, for example, by discussing how we as academics are constantly exposed to feedback in the form of peer review. We could also make sure to continuously ask for feedback on our teaching, and then (preferably) handle the comments in an exemplary manner and model how to receive and use feedback as a tool for learning and growth.
To receive feedback is something I think not only students struggle with from time to time. However, thinking about this in the terms of ‘feedback literacy’ can be helpful as it makes it less static by highlighting this as an ability – and abilities can be improved. So next time you either provide or receive feedback, see it as a possibility for individual skill development.
How do you work with feedback processes and activities?
Reference: Carless, D. & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315—1325.