Feedback Should be More Work for the Recipient

I’ve been doing a ton of reading about the impact that feedback has on student learning over the past few weeks (see here).  It’s something that I’m passionate about AND something that I’m working to get better at in my own practice.

One quote rolling through my mind right now is this one:


William’s argument — which he articulates nicely in Embedded Formative Assessment — is a simple one:  The primary purpose of feedback is to cause learners to think.

An example of William’s notion of effective feedback comes from the math classroom.   He argues that instead of collecting homework, marking problems right and wrong and then handing papers back with a grade, a teacher could tell each student nothing more than the number of wrong answers that can be found on their papers.  Then, students should be held accountable for finding and correcting each mistake on their own.

William shares another example from the language arts classroom.  He argues that instead of correcting grammar and punctuation mistakes FOR students, teachers should make simple marks in the margin indicating sentences where students have made errors.  Then, students should be held accountable for reviewing sentences with marks indicating errors, finding their own mistakes, and making corrections.

Both of these practices require LESS of the classroom teacher, don’t they?  It’s WAY easier to simply indicate mistakes than it is to cover a student’s paper in detailed corrections.  And both of these practices require MORE of our students, who have to carefully return to their work — something that rarely happens once papers are passed back in traditional classrooms.  The REAL value in these examples rests in the reflection that students do after feedback is given.

Stew in all of this for a minute:  If William is right that effective feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor, how much effective feedback are you giving in your classroom?

What’s keeping you from giving more?



Related Radical Reads:

Effective Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

@shareski is Right:  My Students CAN Assess Themselves

Another Student-Involved Assessment Experiment

4 thoughts on “Feedback Should be More Work for the Recipient

  1. JohnP


    Always enjoy your articles. I’m glad you’re loving Dylan Wiliam. He also co-wrote “Inside the Black Box”, which blew me away with what it had to say about the practice of assessment and how to do it in a meaningful fashion. If you have a chance, check that out and you will come away with a lot of deep questions about how we do (and don’t do) assessments.


    P.S. Is it one “L” or two in Dylan’s last name?

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey John,

      Thanks for pointing out Inside the Black Box. I’ve heard about it enough times that I really ought to pick it up and read it.

      And I alway struggle with one L or two! I guess that’s the curse of being named William. I’ll have to go check it out!

      Hope you are well,

  2. Cale

    Hey Bill!

    Thanks for the post. Pushing back on William’s point, while I agree that giving feedback should involve more work for the recipient, I wonder if this feedback we need to give as a result of what a student says, does or writes also tells us how we might change our instructional or approach or task? If a student is making a series of grammatical errors (to continue with the example above), I do want the student to do corrections, but I also want to ponder why those errors were made and if I could have done some things differently.

    Recently, I had a relatively large group of educators do a hands-on task, and a large number of them were unable to complete the task with the instructions that I gave. And while I gave them feedback on where they could find further instruction to complete the task, it also made me realize that the way I structured the task was pretty shoddy. Task predicts performance, and my task stunk.

    Just thoughts from a guy who has a lot to learn about designing tasks 🙂

    Your pal,


    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Cale,

      You are definitely right: The feedback that we are giving SHOUlD also be feedback for us as practitioners, too. When we start to look for patterns in the kinds of mistakes that kids are making, we can spot patterns/gaps in our own instructional practice. It SHOULD generate thinking in teachers as well as students — and that’s cool.

      Thanks for pointing that out — and I hope you are well!



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