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Addressing Learning Gaps: Formative Feedback for the Win!

By Dr. Rachel Ball
Addressing Learning Gaps: Formative Feedback for the Win!

 Among the many challenges teachers face this school year is how to evaluate and subsequently address the learning gaps that were widened during the pandemic and how to prioritize instructional strategies that lead to results. There is no easy solution; however, quality student feedback ranks high among instructional strategies in its potential and capacity for improving student outcomes (Hattie, 2017). Included below are recommendations for maximizing the power of formative feedback in your classrooms.

Seven Quick Principles of Good Student Feedback

Teachers should regularly reflect on the quality of feedback provided to students to ensure fidelity of their teaching and, more directly, of their students’ learning. While it’s quite simple on its face, quality student feedback is a valuable instructional strategy that requires an investment of time and concerted effort to have a payoff. Wiggins (2012) established seven considerations for constructive, successful feedback, as summarized below:

  1. Feedback should be goal-referenced. Students should have a clear understanding of their learning goal and what steps should be undertaken to reach their goal. Feedback should help students determine if they are on target to achieve their goal.
  2. Feedback should be tangible and transparent. Students should clearly understand the content within the feedback that teachers provide. Additionally, teachers should be mindful of the volume of feedback provided and focus on the most immediate steps needed to progress towards each student’s learning goal.
  3. Feedback should be actionable. Feedback should reflect concrete information about a student’s progress instead of relying on affirmative statements of performance. Actionable feedback must include information about a student’s strengths as well as his or her weaknesses in order for him/her to know the next steps to keep making progress.
  4. Feedback should be user-friendly. It is prudent to always consider your audience when providing feedback. Teachers should resist the urge to use unfamiliar jargon so as not to overwhelm students. Prioritizing the most salient feedback for students in language they understand is essential.
  5. Feedback should be timely. Teachers should ensure students receive feedback in a manner that allows sufficient time to improve outcomes. This may be one of the greatest barriers teachers face. However, teachers also may consider other avenues for providing feedback, such as the use of peer resources or targeting instructional resources and materials for individual support.
  6. Feedback should be ongoing. Students must be afforded multiple occasions to further demonstrate improved performance towards learning goals in order for feedback to be meaningful.
  7. Feedback should be consistent. Teachers should provide feedback that is objective. Students need to understand the success criteria, and the feedback should constantly reinforce the learning goals. To achieve consistency, teachers may consider using a rubric or a tool that helps to standardize the feedback provided. Models or exemplars can also be used to help students understand the end-product.

Teachers should be reminded that feedback should result in continued progress toward a goal. Providing high-quality feedback is an investment of resources and time, but when carefully crafted, it has the potential to yield a very positive return in enhanced student outcomes.

Prioritizing Time for Feedback

One of the greatest barriers to providing effective feedback, however, is the time constraints involved. Fisher and Frey (2012) present three recommendations for streamlining the feedback process. First, they recommend that teachers prioritize addressing errors over correcting mistakes. By targeting errors that students make, teachers are able to help correct and fix future errors through the reteaching process. Secondly, teachers should examine trends in student errors that will allow the teachers to group students accordingly. And finally, there may be instances in which reteaching certain content or topics is widely needed and, thus, the best use of instructional time may involve a whole class reteaching of content. Using these strategies will help to maximize time and help focus on selecting appropriate strategies for ensuring the feedback is corrective.

Using Feedback to Select Action Steps

After analyzing student work, teachers must also determine how they will provide interventions through the formative feedback process. Guskey (2007/2008) presented an array of corrective activities that teachers may use to address learning gaps. More traditional corrective activities may be teacher-directed and include strategies such as reteaching, individual tutoring, or pairing students with appropriate resources that reinforce the learning material. Alternatively, corrective activities also may enlist peer support in the form of peer tutoring, partner activities, or games to reinforce learning. Additionally, there may be avenues in which students may engage in corrective activities independently, through individually assigned resources, learning activities and/or games, or computer-based resources. By varying the strategies to address holes in student learning, teachers are able to appropriately align and prioritize resources based on students’ needs.

Feedback about Feedback

Perhaps one of the simplest strategies for ensuring teachers are meeting students’ needs is to have discussions with them about the feedback they receive. The utility of this strategy may vary based on the developmental needs of students. By soliciting the input of students, teachers are empowering them to partner in reaching their goals. Additionally, this approach helps students in building a sense of community and reinforcing the notion that they are continuously growing and learning. Further, it will help ensure the corrective actions teachers take is a good fit for the learning needs of the students.

The most important message is that feedback is a powerful strategy for improving student goals. Quality feedback doesn’t require purchasing an expensive commercial program; rather, it simply requires that teachers know their students’ abilities and learning success, and then give their students timely and quality feedback about their performance. Feedback may be individualized and differentiated based on varying needs within the classroom, and it may take many forms as teachers evaluate how to best target the available resources in their classroom. When intentionally and thoughtfully crafted, formative feedback continues to support meaningful growth towards shared goals. This is what leads to a big win for both teachers and students!

Fisher, D. &  Frey, N. (2012). Making time for Feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), pp. 42-47). Retrieved from

Guskey, T. R. (2007, December/ 2008, January). The rest of the story. Educational Leadership, 65(4), pp. 28-35. Retrieved from

Hattie, J. (2017, November). 250+ Influences on Student Achievement. Visible Learning Plus.

Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. (2012). 7 keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), pp. 10-16. Retrieved from


Rachel Previs Ball, Ed.D., currently services as the director of the Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School for Marine and Environmental Science while also working on special projects for Stronge & Associates.

Stronge and Associates Educational Consulting, LLC (S&A), specializes in researching, developing, and supporting the design and application of educator evaluation systems both in the United States and internationally. We work extensively on the related issues of teacher and leader effectiveness with our research-based hiring protocols, professional development workshops, and technical assistance to districts, states, and other U.S. and international educational organizations.

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