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What does research tell us about feedback and assessment?

Learn about the thermostat of feedback and the thermometer of marking.
Hi, I’m Harry Fletcher-Wood and I’m an Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching. The research is very clear that assessment is crucial to teaching. If I’m not assessing I may be teaching but I can never know what students are learning and the evidence on feedback is that it’s one of the most powerful things we can do to help students improve, but it’s also particularly hard to get right. I think we often mix up feedback and marking. Feedback is like a thermostat; it changes what the radiator does so we reach a desired temperature. For example, if I write comments but students don’t act on them, don’t understand them, don’t even read them then I’m marking but I’m not giving feedback.
I’m a thermometer, not a thermostat. Conversely, if I notice students struggling with a particular idea, pause the whole class, highlight the issue and students correct their work then I’m giving feedback but not marking. I probably don’t need to emphasise that feedback is both more effective, and at least in this example, more efficient than marking. I think assessment and feedback suffer from what Doug Lemov would call endemic problems; predictable, inherent difficulties. For example, how can I know what all my students have understood? How can I know what everyone’s thinking during the lesson? How can I help every student improve?
These are difficult because every student will be in a slightly different place and because we can’t get round the whole class at once and because our time is limited. I think we’re still wedded to some quite inefficient assessment practices. Responsive teaching means being crystal clear what it is you want students to learn, finding out exactly what they’ve understood and adapting your teaching accordingly. If I can tell someone the key idea I want students to recall from the lesson, for example knowing the causes of the English Civil War.
If I have a way of finding out whether they’ve got it, some kind of task which encapsulates the lesson like a single summary answer and if I then review what students have written and learned and adapt my next lesson accordingly; realising, for example, that students have misunderstood the king’s role and so reviewing that then I’m teaching responsibly. Short-term, there are disadvantages to changing. If I’ve been doing something happily for a while, change is going to upset my routines and my students. But longer-term, we can save a lot of time and get the same results or better ones through change.
For example, if I use a hinge question to find out what students have understood and adapt the lesson accordingly, I can pinpoint students confusions and help them before those misconceptions become embedded. Students need to see what great work looks like if they’re going to create it themselves. That means both seeing the finished product and seeing how it was put together. I think technology makes that a lot easier, whether it’s using a visualiser to examine an exemplar piece of work or reviewing and improving an existing example live in front of the class.
In this short video, Harry Fletcher-Wood, Associate Dean at the Institute for Teaching helps us to further unpick the research evidence we’ve engaged with this week on assessment and feedback.

His thoughts will add to your clarity ahead of taking a look at the school case studies to accompany this week’s learning.

Key takeaways:

  • If you’re not assessing then you might be teaching, but you can never know what pupils are learning
  • Feedback is powerful, but only if it translates into learning for the pupils
  • Responsive teaching approaches can help us to make assessment and feedback more effective
  • Technology might be able to help with more efficient and effective assessment and feedback approaches
When you’ve watched this video and made any notes to record key learning points, click the ‘Mark as complete’ button below and then select ‘Guiding student improvement without individual feedback to read an article from Harry Fletcher-Wood about one approach to providing feedback.
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Using Technology in Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

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