What is and why it is important

In order for students to succeed, they need to know what they are aiming for, then be kept on track through precise and timely feedback.

Feedback has one of the strongest impacts on a student’s attainment. Hattie has shown that good feedback can improve the rate of learning in one year by at least 50%.

A really well ‘marked’ book is not enough. Feedback needs to be actioned otherwise it is pointless.

Feedback should be a two-way process. It should identify the student’s ‘learning gap’, feedback to back to close the identified gap, and finally the student action the feedback. Feedback can be written or verbal, from teachers, peers or self-assessment. The aim is always to close the gap in knowledge or technique.

Feedback should inform future teaching. Four ways that you can do this are:

  1. In the lesson. Feedback from students allows you to address any misunderstandings straight away. Stopping, reframing and adapting lessons is an essential feature of good teaching.
  2. In-between lessons. After a lesson, reflect. Plan to cover problem areas again in future lessons.
  3. In-between units of work. After a unit of work, reflect upon common weaknesses and knowledge gaps. Make sure they are addressed when putting together the following term’s teaching.
  4. When reviewing the curriculum. Look at performance across certain topics. Where there has been underachievement or lack of understanding review how this area has been taught and plan again for next year as a result of this.

Hattie and Timperley identify four categories of feedback:

  1. Feedback on the task or product. Is the work correct or incorrect? Feedback like this ensures that the students build accurate knowledge, which is essential if they are going to develop this into deeper learning.
  2. Feedback based on the process used to create the product. This is feedback on how students are using their new knowledge.
  3. Feedback based on self-regulation. This is the way that students plan, monitor and evaluate their own work. Students take control of their own learning and learning behaviours.
  4. Feedback aimed at a personal level. This is based on the students themselves and is rarely effective.  It will include comments such as “you are very clever”. To be effective, praise should focus on the effort and process rather than the students’ innate qualities or talents.

Ask yourself the following questions about your feedback:

  1. Does it close the gap and/or move the students forward? If it doesn’t it is not serving its purpose and so it is not worth doing.
  2. Is it manageable? Anything that stops the planning and delivery of excellent lessons must be removed. Feedback strategies must be manageable and sustainable otherwise they will become self-defeating.
  3. Is it fit for purpose? Different subjects will require different approaches to feedback. If it effectively closes the gap and points each student to the next stage of learning then it is fit for purpose.
  4. Is feedback holding students back? Too much can be counterproductive. Your aim is to produce confident self-regulating learners. They can become too reliant on your feedback and less likely to take risks. Too much feedback means that students never have to struggle, and this is key to learning. Students must be ready to feel that making errors is not just acceptable, but integral to learning.

Literature to read

  • What does this look like in the classroom? – Chapter on assessment and feedback – Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson
  • Making Every Lesson Count – chapter 5 – ‘Feedback’ – Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby
  • Mark. Plan. Teach. – Ross Morrison McGill
  • Embedded Formative Assessment – Dylan Wiliam
  • A Marked Improvement – Education Endowment Foundation

Videos to watch

Blog posts

Different strategies


Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time. After returning work, a set amount of time is dedicated for students to reading and responding to your feedback. This could involve annotating a first draft, and then completely redrafting using the improvement points as a guide. Equally DIRT might just be a ten-minute chance to answer a question you have set. Whichever way, students are making improvements. DIRT can be applied in the following ways:

Focussed Editing. Insist that students work on their own errors, circled by the teacher, independently; and ensure that dictionaries, thesauruses and any other useful resources are available.

Ten minutes of Gritty Editing. 1. Correct your circled mistakes. Reread the whole sentence if you are unsure. Use a dictionary to help. 2. Look for and change any mistakes I have not highlighted. 3. If you finish the first three, read the whole piece through again and make three changes of your choice, you can cut out, you can add in. Rule 1: You must remain silent. Rule 2: You must not stop working. Rule 3: You can only ask one question.  

Individual Improvement Tasks. DIRT can be tricky to manage. Often students will need more advice or scaffolding than a written comment or question is able to provide. One way of solving this problem is to present a slide that links an improvement task to a specific target that you have written for the student.

Home learning. Setting DIRT as home learning is a good time saving option. This works particularly effectively when students have just completed timed exam practice. Set the class their targets and spend a few minutes talking through the general improvements points before setting the home learning.

Log it. Once the DIRT task has been completed, ask students to make a note about how they have improved their understanding. The recording of improvement points can be formalised by the use of a ‘progress tracker sticker’ or similar document on the front of exercise books.

Find the Best Bits

You should also give feedback that clarifies to students what they are doing well. It is also effective to encourage students to identify and self-verbalise the successful aspects of their work. When you spot that a student has solved a problem or is producing particularly excellent work, instead of simply complimenting them, try to ask questions such as:

            How did you get to that answer?

            Why did you do it like that?

Did you use any other unsuccessful methods before coming up with this successful one?

What was difficult about it?

What makes it a good answer?

How is this better than last time?

What advice would you give to anyone else who is struggling?

Repeating the outcomes of these conversations for the benefit of the whole class will give other students something to aspire towards.

Say It

This is the quickest and most simple form of feedback in the moment. This helps you to steer individuals through the lesson and, used effectively, will ensure that fewer bad habits become entrenched, which will lead to less remedial marking further down the line.

Verbal feedback removes the possibility of misunderstanding written comments and allows you to check for understanding, rephrasing your wording if necessary, fill them in with any missing or insecure knowledge and give them the opportunity to ask questions. It is far easier to be detailed and personalised when feeding back personally.

Switch the Onus

One other method switches the onus of marking onto the students. Teachers refuse to mark any work until students have shown that they have proof read and edited their work, maybe even annotated exactly where they would like feedback before handing in their work. In order to achieve this, you will need to model how to annotate improvements. Messy can be good!

Mark Live

As students are working, call them up individually and spend a few minutes with them. Discuss their work with them and give clear feedback about how to improve and where to go next. Try this when a class is undertaking an extended written piece, exam or any other focussed individual task.

Symbol Marking

  • Instead of writing out comments over and over again, use symbols on the students’ work. Once you have finished marking, type the targets onto a slide, present to the students and get them to copy from the slide. You now have these targets saved for the next time you teach this task. You can also create a code for pointing out student successes.

Repeat After Me…

When giving verbal feedback, there is the risk that students will forget what you have said. To avoid this, after discussing the work ask the student to repeat the feedback back to you in their own words. Once you are sure they understand, ask them to tell you the first thing they are going to do. Let them get started and, if possible, return after a few minutes to check they are on course.

By verbalising the feedback and then committing to action, there is a greater chance that the student will respond successfully. Remember, keep it short and concise.

Keep the Peer Clear

Here is a clear four step process to carefully manage peer-assessment so that it has maximum impact:

Step One: Give students clear success criteria and then use this as the marking criteria e.g. circle X, underline Y.

Step Two: Give students sentence starters which will allow them to provide a formative comment and question.

Step Three: The student who produced the piece of work answers the question set by the marker.

Step Four: Log improvements on students’ ‘progress tracker sticker’ to act as a reference for later revision.

Peer marking can be very successful when the criteria is concise, and instructions are clear. Students are not being asked to grade the work, they are simply checking if the work has reached very specific criteria.

Open a Gallery

Peer assessment gives students the responsibility for marking and gives them a greater understanding of success criteria. However, it should be approached carefully because some work will be better marked than others, and students will naturally place more trust in teacher feedback than peer feedback.

A gallery of student work could solve this problem:

  1. Tell students that the work they are producing will be in the gallery.
    1. Students lay their work on their desk, next to a pile of post-it notes.
    1. Talk through the feedback that you are looking for, for example Kind, Specific and Helpful. Provide sentence starters to guide their thinking.
    1. Model the responses that you are looking for with one piece of work.
    1. Ensure that students number the lines of their work so that students can refer to specific lines easily.
    1. Insist upon silence.
    1. Set a time limit. Suggested 5 minutes per piece of work they look at.
    1. Students return to their work and read their feedback. Get them to pull out the two or three most useful pieces of feedback.

Using Highlighters

Students should be able to review their own work, spot any mistakes and correct them without the need for teachers to be constantly telling them to do so. This strategy facilitates this.

As students are working, read over their shoulders and highlight any mistakes that you spot. When you have done this for a number of students, stop the class and say that if you have highlighted a part of their work then they need to look it again. Don’t tell the student why it is wrong or needs development, that is for them to work out. Later on, you can check that they have amended their work correctly.

Over time, you should not have to stop the class, they should know what to do when you highlight anything.

Five Minute Flick

Before the lesson, check through a cross-section of books (5 or 6) to assess how students across a range of abilities performed. If they have produced a piece of writing you can begin the lesson by selecting an example from one of these and critique it as a class. You can then model the editing process with this piece of work, focussing upon the common misconceptions and weaknesses you identified in your original ‘flick’. Point to how the piece of work you are critiquing both avoids some of these common mistakes and falls foul of others. Once finished, individuals then return to their work and edit independently.

Network the Critique

This technique uses a room of networked computers. When students have finished their work, they save it into a shared folder. You can then read them and add comments, copied and pasted from your bank of targets and questions.

At the start of the next lesson, students complete a DIRT task and highlight the sections that they have improved. During the lesson you can continue to assess the documents, read them, add improvement comments and then add a hyperlink to the work of another student whose piece will act as an exemplar for a particular area that a student needs support with.

By doing this you are providing personalised feedback.

Keep it Lean

  • Be selective. Only mark at the frequency and depth that students have the capacity to respond to.
  • Only mark work that you will return to students to improve or correct.
  • Be formative. Restrict written comments to those that inform students how to improve or give instructions for actions they should take.
  • Give students time to respond immediately.

Whole class feedback

  • Take all your students’ books in and read through the work
  • Makes notes as you read the work. You may think about commenting upon:
    • Common technical errors or misconceptions
    • Common areas for improvement
    • Common SPaG errors
    • Particular books with excellent work to share with the class
    • Particular books which are not good enough and will need individual follow up
  • Next lesson give the books out, run through the feedback and give students time to redraft based upon your comments
  • Share the examples of excellent work

End with Struggle

  • At the end of a lesson, instead of asking students if they have achieved the Intended Learning, discuss with them the parts of the lesson that they struggled with and how they (hopefully!) managed to overcome this.
  • This strategy has several advantages: It promotes struggle as an acceptable condition, it shares resilience strategies and provides you with feedback in order to plan your next lesson.