QR:  Providing feedback for learning

Providing feedback for learning

Source: N Brown

Source: N Brown

Providing feedback for learning:

Within secondary education and teacher training we all focus on the importance of assessment for learning. Providing feedback is an important element within that. Work in relation to assessment for learning (for example Black et al., 2004; Wiliam et al., 2004; Wiliam, 2011) provides a wide range of practical ideas and proven methods for assessing for learning and providing feedback effectively and efficiently. I have also posted about assessment as a learning opportunity.

But when we speak to teachers, teacher educators and university tutors, the message is by and large the same: students do not engage with the feedback they are given, and so it is not as effective as it could potentially be (Bailey & Garner, 2010). Research about feedback within higher education also reports that students view feedback as not helpful enough and too complicated (for example Glover & Brown, 2006; Weaver, 2006).

It is therefore not surprising that communities of practice within higher education are regularly discussing the format of providing feedback. Here are three examples for providing feedback that encourages students to engage with it. These ways work well within higher education settings but are also tried and tested within secondary schools.


Track changes and comments:

I receive most of my marking as word documents, so I often use track changes and comments in the margins. Providing feedback for me is not so much giving information and ideas, it is more about asking questions in a way that students would have to delve deeper into the matter in discussion. If there are concepts that are misunderstood, I will highlight those and offer explanations, but often my comments in the margins are questions like “why do you think so?” “how do we know?” “what does this mean for…?”.


Symbol marking:

Instead of writing the questions or comments in the margins, I sometimes use symbols or abbreviated words. Across a cohort of students certain issues are similar or the same in most essays. By allocating a symbol and then providing a chart of what the symbols means leads to students having to go through the feedback more carefully. When providing feedback I make sure that students engage with my comments properly every time, and so I change the meanings of the abbreviations or symbols from one assignment to another.

Here is an example for such a symbol table from a couple of years ago:

Pres Presentation. You are missing some or all of the following parts: the cover page, the plagiarism statement, the bibliography, the appendix (your work-in progress document). Or the formatting of your work is not of relevant high standards (line spacing, page breaks).


Spellings. This may refer to a spelling mistake within a word, or it may mean that you need to be consistent with your spelling either US or UK. I suggest UK, but if you want to use US then fine, but you need to be consistent throughout your assignment
? Ask yourself a critical question here. Think about the statement you have written and think about what this means or implies. Be more critical here and show deeper levels of thinking. Sensible critical questions are usually: why?, how?, how do I know?, what is the evidence?, what does this mean?, how is this relevant?, how do I feel about this?, what would be the opposing view?

I am also known to use pictures.

Yoda says: “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

This refers to the fact that if you “try” or “intend” or “attempt” you are actually weakening your own arguments. It sounds like you are not sure of what you are doing. So do not use such verbs.



More recently, I have used audio-recordings for providing feedback. Within virtual learning environments feedback platforms often allow for a 3 min audio recording. Generally, this is great, but I do not like that because the comments aren’t embedded in the section or added to the paragraph where the mistakes are. Therefore I have started using the application Kaizena. The advantage is that I can enter comments to the relevant statements like in Word, as a written form or as short audio recordings. The disadvantage is that students have to upload and download their work through the platform, too. So, providing feedback becomes more of an administrative nuisance. However, students have commented on how they enjoy listening to my feedback, as I am explaining things more clearly than in my written comments. Kaizena also allows for group comments or one-to-one messages and for students to respond to my comments – providing feedback therefore becomes a dialogue or discussion.



Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the black box: Assessment for learning in the classroomPhi delta kappan86(1), 8-21.

Glover, C., & Brown, E. (2006). Written feedback for students: too much, too detailed or too incomprehensible to be effective?. Bioscience Education7(1), 1-16.

Weaver, M. R. (2006). Do students value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors’ written responses. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education31(3), 379-394.

Wiliam, D. (2011). What is assessment for learning?. Studies in Educational Evaluation37(1), 3-14.

Wiliam, D., Lee, C., Harrison, C., & Black, P. (2004). Teachers developing assessment for learning: Impact on student achievement. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice11(1), 49-65.

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