Feedback for learning

I continue to share brief lessons from the modules in Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching, a free massive open online course (MOOC) designed for new teachers, those who wish to enhance student learning or teaching practice and emerging leaders in higher education. It is currently open for enrolment. Sign up at and use the following join code: 64BHPE. We have over 700 students in the course!

Feedback for Learning is Module 5. It is part of the ‘New to teaching’ pathway through the course.

Developed by Anna Rowe (University of New South Wales) this module shares the principles of feedback design, as well as diverse feedback practices and ways to promote student engagement with feedback.

Feedback is one of the most challenging aspects of teaching, especially for those just starting out. The key message is: feedback should be constructive. Feedback should be provided with the intention of being helpful; delivered respectfully, in a clear and mindful manner; and be solution or action-orientated.

The resources in the module guide you through feedback and feedforward and focus on the student experience.

Ask yourself: How feedback literate are your students?

‘Feedback literacy’ (Carless & Boud, 2018) is key to learners understanding the changes necessary to improve their future performance. There are four aspects of feedback literacy:

  • appreciating feedback;
  • making judgements;
  • managing affect; and
  • taking action.

Image: Four domains of feedback literacy (Carless & Boud, 2018).

Let’s focus on one aspect: managing affect (or working with emotions)

Because assessment is high stakes, in the sense that it is associated with achievement and failure, students can have more intense emotional responses than other aspects of learning including fear, pride, happiness, guilt and gratitude (Rowe, 2017).

Your own reflections provide the starting point for supporting students to manage the affective aspect of feedback.

  • Consider a time you received feedback (from a teacher, manager, co-worker, coach) that made you feel negative? What was it about the feedback that made you feel like that?
  • What emotions did you experience?
  • How could the feedback have been provided in a more helpful way?
  • How and to what extent did you engage with the feedback? Were you motivated to read/listen to it? 
  • What action did you take in response to the feedback (if any)?
  • What is one strategy that you could implement in your teaching to improve students’ emotional experience of feedback, and their likelihood to engage with it?

Edited to add: A tweet from Ameena L. Payne challenged me to think more critically about the concept of “managing affect”:

I highly recommend reading Care-full feedback to provoke your reflections on giving feedback to students. As Ameena and Jan put it:

“Students want to be seen by their teachers and for their teachers to express care when providing feedback. This means being sensitive and responsive to the cultural, social, and circumstantial factors that may affect the feedback process.”

They offer a model for social, dynamic, and dialogic feedback might look like: care-full feedback theorised by Black feminist and womanist scholars such as Audrey Lorde, Alice Walker, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins.

“A care-centered approach to feedback may better enable the complexity, wonderment, relationality, and potential of feedback as a socially-just process that involves the whole person.”

David Carless, from whose work the term “managing affect” comes, chimed into the Twitter discussion:

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay.

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