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 about my own practice that I’m trying to polish.

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.

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 mistakes 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



Related categories: ,
  • Michael Kaechele


    Bill, I'm not sure how this transfers to other subjects, but in my math class when I give out practice problems I put the answers on the back. I also do not grade them at all. This does a few things, it allows students to self assess as they do the problems if they are doing it right or not. They can then come to me for a workshop if they are struggling. Some students also figure out how to do the math by "reverse engineering" from the answer which I think is a great skill. It also is impossible to cheat by copying because they already have the answers so the focus is on understanding. The motivation comes from the future assessment that I will grade.

    • Matt Miller

      Answers in the Back


      I always liked having the answers in the back of the textbook when I was a student. It helped me to understand where I was going and gave immediate feedback if I went down the wrong road. You've got me thinking about "reverse engineering" in SS as well. Maybe give the answer, but let the student come up with a correlating question. 


  • Dan Winters



    Hey Bill

    We've been working on feedback as well.  Our goal is that students take ownership of their learning so that quote resonates with us.  I love Dan Meyer's tag line of "Be Less Helpful". We have found that when the learning targets and success criteria are clear students are more able to review their work for correctness and completeness.  The work of Rob Berger has helped us develop that focus on student ownership.





  • Alison Stuart


    Hi Bill,

    I agree completely. In my science class I give a lot of problem based questions.  I give the mark for each question and students have to fix their responses until it covers all the information necessary. They are allowed to collaborate and get some hints from me, but this forces them to talk about and articulate the answer to the problem.