10 Principles of Assessment

Principle #5

Students must be provided with ongoing feedback that is clear, specific, and timely to support their progress towards achieving learning goals.

The whole purpose of feedback is to increase the extent to which students are owners of their own learning.

—Dylan William

The power of formative feedback lies in its double barreled approach, addressing both cognitive and motivational factors at the same time. Good feedback gives students information they need so they can understand where they are in their learning and what to do next.

Research has shown that feedback has a more positive impact on student learning when it is focused on features of the learning task (not the learner). The impact of feedback on student achievement also depends greatly on the type, delivery, and timing of the feedback.

Feedback can be used to allow students to show improvements in their learning. By allowing students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning, students will be more actively engaged in their learning. When a teacher allows students to replace old assignments with new ones, it shows the teachers that learning has in fact taken place and that students care about their learning.

Quality feedback is most beneficial to learning when it is descriptive and focused and is directly connected to what students are learning. It differs from evaluative feedback (49%, C+, Level B, etc.); praise (“good work”); and obscure criticism (“more effort needed, details”) by providing students with specific information about what they are doing well and what they can do next to improve their learning/performance.

Feedback should be the recipe for learning – to be considered as signposts and directions along the way, helping students become more autonomous in their own development

(Earl, 2003)

Descriptive feedback:

  • causes thinking
  • is timely
  • provides students with detailed and specific information about their learning and the desired goals for improvement
  • points out the strengths and weaknesses of the work
  • occurs during learning, while students can still improve
  • addresses partial understanding
  • does not do the thinking for students
  • limits corrective information to the amount of advice the student can act on

(Chappuis, 2009)

Classroom Examples/Teacher Testimonials

1. An Elementary Teacher uses a cycle of reflective self and peer-assessments to help students take ownership of their learning. Self and peer-assessments are designed to help students 1) make judgements about what they know, have learned, or have mastered; 2) justify or show evidence of their growth; and 3) set goals for continued learning.

2. A Secondary Teacher deconstructs learning into clearly defined “steps” towards a particular learning target and shares these steps with the students at the beginning of the unit. The language of the “steps” becomes the language for providing specific feedback to students focusing on the intended learning goals, pointing out strengths, and offering specific suggestions for improvement. Feedback is provided through one-on-one, five- minute conferences during class time. This timely feedback allows students to act on the suggestions while the unit is still in progress, prior to summative assessments.

Teacher Tips

1. Keep the amount of feedback to a manageable amount; be very specific and focused on only one or two aspects/criteria at a time. Give students the opportunity to redo/revise based on your feedback before giving them more.

2. Refrain from commenting on aspects outside of the pre-determined criteria. For example, if the students are asked to record their problem solving process in a math journal, only give feedback on that aspect; don’t comment on spelling and grammar/sentence structure.

3. Consider the effect of the words used in feedback on motivation and self-esteem. Start your feedback by bringing to their attention something you noticed students have improved on, what they are doing well, the effort that you have noticed them putting into certain aspects, and the effect that effort has had on their learning (if positive); Recognize and draw to their attention to what it is they are doing that is moving their learning forward, THEN move the feedback focus to the next area of need in the learning progression.