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Dylan Wiliam on Feedback That Makes a Difference to Students

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “The Secret of Effective Feedback” by Dylan Wiliam in Educational Leadership, April 2016 (Vol. 73, #7, p. 10-15),; Wiliam is at
In this article in Educational Leadership, assessment expert Dylan Wiliam reports the startling research finding that students often learn nothing from the comments and grades their teachers write on their papers – in fact, many students learn less when teachers provide feedback than when they write nothing at all. “The apparently simple process of looking at student work and then giving useful feedback turns out to be much more difficult than most people imagine,” says Wiliam. “The only important thing about feedback is what students do with it… If our feedback doesn’t change the student in some way, it has probably been a waste of time.”
Two examples: An English teacher tells a student that her composition will be better if she reverses the sequence of the third and fourth paragraphs. The composition will improve, but the teacher did the intellectual heavy lifting and the student probably learned very little. Similarly, if a teacher corrects arithmetic errors, there’s nothing left for the student to do except calculate the score. “The real issue is purpose,” says Wiliam. “We need to use the information we obtain from looking at the student’s work – even though that information may be less than perfect – and give feedback that will move the student’s learning forward.” Here are his suggestions for teachers:
• Design tasks and ask questions that make students’ thinking visible. This means more prep work for the teacher, especially in math classes, but frontloading well-framed tasks makes it much more likely that feedback will be useful. We won’t always get it right, says Wiliam, but he reassures us with a reminder that batting .300 in the major leagues is considered very good.
• Make feedback into detective work. A math teacher might return a 20-question test to a student with the comment, “Five of these are incorrect. Find them and fix them.” This approach ensures that students receiving feedback do as much work as the teacher who provides it. It also makes students look at their work with a more analytical eye.
• Build students’ capacity for self-assessment. The ultimate goal of feedback should be to get students to the point where they can self-correct without the teacher looking over their shoulder. Instrumental music teachers understand this intuitively, and focus the 30-40 minutes they spend with their students each week on developing the skill of being able to notice mistakes and improve technique in the hours of solo practice. “Contrast this approach with most content-area teaching in schools,” says Wiliam, “where teachers seem to believe that students make most of their progress when the teacher is present, with homework as a kind of optional add-on.”
Human nature being what it is, many students find it emotionally challenging to be critical of their own work. A good scaffolding strategy is having a class look at an anonymous piece of work and describe the feedback this person should receive, then have students critique the work of a classmate, and finally self-correct. After a task like this, it’s helpful to ask students what they found easy, what they found difficult, and what was interesting. Alternatively, students might be asked what they would do differently if they did the task again. Once students can do this, feedback from others becomes less and less necessary.
“In the end,” says Wiliam, “it all comes down to the relationship between the teacher and the student. To give effective feedback, the teacher needs to know the student – to understand what feedback the student needs right now. And to receive feedback in a meaningful way, the student needs to trust the teacher – to believe that the teacher knows what he or she is talking about and has the student’s best interests at heart. Without this trust, the student is unlikely to invest the time and effort needed to absorb and use the feedback.”

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09/28/2021 - Abeer
very informative information about how to give positive feedback and what a student think about it.
09/19/2021 - Beenish
Very informative article