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How to Provide Effective Verbal Feedback in the Classroom

A summary of best practices by Stronge & Associates Educational Consulting, LLC
By Xianxuan Xu
How to Provide Effective Verbal Feedback in the Classroom

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash.
Providing timely, specific, and actionable feedback is one of the crucial instructional tools that helps students learn (Erturan-Ilker 2014). Feedback influences students’ learning in many ways, including by producing increased effort, motivation, engagement, and positive perceptions of the learning climate (Erturan-Ilker 2014; Senko & Harackiewicz 2005).
Feedback can help confirm what is correct or incorrect in student learning by exposing and addressing student misconceptions in a content area or a skill set. It also helps students learn about alternative strategies, take new directions, and identify extra information to advance their learning (Hattie 2009; Stronge & Xu 2016).
The definition given by Winne and Butler (1994) also captures a range of functions and purposes: “Feedback is information with which a learner can confirm, add to, overwrite, tune, or restructure information in memory, whether that information is domain knowledge, meta-cognitive knowledge, beliefs about self and tasks, or cognitive tactics and strategies” (as cited in Hattie 2009).
Providing feedback to students has a powerful impact on student learning. Hattie’s (2009) synthesis of 196 studies on feedback finds an overall effect size of 0.73, which is equivalent to an achievement gain of 27 percentile points. However, research also suggests that effect of feedback varies considerably depending on how the feedback is given and received (Hattie & Timperley 2007).
Typically, feedback that provides specific information on students’ performance on task, product, process, and self-regulation is more effective than feedback that comments solely on correctness of student work.
Research actually suggests that simply telling students whether their answers are right or wrong has a negative impact on learning (Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock 2001). Also, the feedback that provides learning-goal-related cues and reinforcement is more powerful than the feedback that does not provide concrete information (Hattie 2009).
Research finds that when a teacher provides the correct answer without offering prompts to extend students’ thinking, the feedback has only a small positive effect (with an average effect size of 0.22). However, if the teacher explains what is accurate and what is inaccurate in student responses, then the feedback has a bigger impact, with an effect size of 0.53. Furthermore, feedback that encourages students to keep trying until they succeed is effective as well, also with an average effect size of 0.53 (Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock 2001).
When giving feedback, effective teachers avoid simple yes or no answers; rather, they provide informative explanations of what students are doing correctly, what they are not doing correctly, and how to address the errors (Chappuis & Stiggins 2002).
Hattie and Timperley (2007) structured three questions to guide feedback: 1) Where am I going? 2) How am I going? and 3) Where to next? Feedback on the first question helps clarify learning goals and intentions. Feedback answering the second question provides information on students’ current task performance. Feedback targeting the last question provides informative guidance or cues for improvement and progress toward the desired performance.
When quality feedback is available, students often recognize and respond to it. Hattie (2012) notes that when students perceive the feedback sounds like constructive criticism, clarifies their doubts, indicates the quality of their work, prompts them to elaborate their ideas, or provides specific examples that help them think more deeply, then the feedback is likely to improve their learning.
Effective feedback pinpoints the gap between students’ current task performance and the desired learning outcomes. It helps students understand the inadequacies in their work and encourages them to bridge the gap. It is communicated in a constructive way to help students self-regulate and improve, rather than in a negative way that puts students down. Effective feedback treats mistakes as important opportunities to learn. It stimulates students to try alternative strategies and to seek out additional resources to develop their knowledge, understanding, and skills (Cauley & McMillan 2010).
Cauley, K. M., & McMillan, J. H. (2010). Formative assessment techniques to support student motivation and achievement. Clearing House: A Journal of Education Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 83(1), 1–6.
Chappuis, S., & Stiggins, R. J. (2002). Classroom assessment for learning. Educational Leadership, 60(1), 40–43.
Erturan-Ilker, G. (2014). Effects of feedback on achievement goals and perceived motivational climate in physical education. Issues in Educational Research, 24(2), 152–161.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York: Routledge.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.
Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Senko, C., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2005). Regulation of achievement goals: The role of competence feedback. Journal of Educational Psychology, 97(3), 320–336.
Stronge, J. H., & Xu, X. (2016). Instructional strategies for effective teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Winne, P. H., & Butler, D. L. (1994). Student cognition in learning from teaching. In T. Husen & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., pp. 5738–5745). Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.

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