The Power of Feedback: Which, When and How?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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What type of feedback is the most useful in the classroom?

A new meta-analysis of empirical research published by Wisniewski, Zierer and Hattie (2020) shows that feedback cannot be understood as a single consistent form of treatment.

(Post-publication: Feedback from John Hattie)

Analysis revealed that the impact is substantially influenced by the information content conveyed. Furthermore, feedback has a higher impact on cognitive and motor skills outcomes than on motivational and behavioural outcomes. This research shows that feedback has become a huge focus of teaching research and practice. However, they also point toward the necessity of interpreting different forms of feedback as independent measures.

Types of Feedback

(Sadler 1989) claimed that the main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current understandings and performance and a goal. From this, Hattie and Timperley (2007 ) argued that feedback can have different perspectives:

  1. “feed-up” (comparison of the actual status with a target status),
  2. “feed-back” (comparison of the actual status with a previous status), and
  3. “feed-forward” (explanation of the target status based on the actual status).

The research also suggests, “Additionally, feedback can be differentiated according to its level of cognitive complexity.” Later in the paper, the academics write, “One of the most consistent findings about the power of feedback is the remarkable variability of effects.”

It has been shown that the majority of feedback in classes is task feedback, the most received and interpreted is about “where to next,” and the least effective is self or praise feedback (Hattie and Timperley, 2007). Visible Learning to date has over 25,000 citations on Google Scholar!

Effectiveness of Feedback

On my travels to schools across the world, although the Visible Learning research is welcome and reaching biblical scales, as with all research, it is important to translate both theory and practice for your own context. Feedback in a visually impaired classroom in an alternative provision provider will be very different from the feedback provided to a group of 16-year-olds in a maths classroom in an inner-city state school. At present, we don’t really have any robust research about types of feedback and its effect in different contexts…

The early research of Visible Learning (a meta-analyses) made assumptions about the type of feedback, found to be decisive, with praise, punishment, rewards, and corrective feedback all having low or low to medium effects on average, but corrective feedback being highly effective for enhancing the learning of new skills and tasks. Feedback using video/audio and computer-assisted feedback was found to have medium and high-effects, with written comments being more effective than providing grades.

Note, assumptions, not interpretation.

The researchers in this new paper conclude for their methodological considerations, “meta-synthesis, a meta-analytical approach allows to remove duplets and therefore prevent a distortion of results.” This means they are digging deeper into past research, removing duplicate studies which may influence overall effect sizes or recommendations.

So, where does this leave teachers now with feedback?


  1. Feedback must be recognised as a complex and differentiated
  2. Feedback has many different forms with, at times, quite different effects on student learning.
  3. Most importantly, feedback is more effective, the more information it contains and research on estimating this information would be a valuable addition to the area.

I suspect I will be exploring more academic papers for my doctoral research to help understand the calculation of effect sizes, research methods, bias and heterogeneity (diversity). And when publishing them here, the challenge for me will be as my work evolves, to keep the findings simple for teachers with bitesize resources and ideas to take away.

It’s an interesting paper. I would encourage you to take a look at the Power Of Feedback and read the abstract and the conclusion.

11 thoughts on “The Power of Feedback: Which, When and How?

  1. Hattie and Timperley’s article on feedback is one of the most influential in the field of teaching and learning. The important thing I would emphasize is that it must come in a variety of forms and must be short and sharp directed to a specific problem, misunderstanding or error. I liken feedback to a laser scalpel.

  2. Is the immediacy of feedback more or less beneficial? If feedback is detailed in correcting an error that is then addressed – then there will also be be a testing impact.

  3. This is something we have worked hard on in our school – evaluating the effectiveness of different types of feedback to re-shape our marking policy to create our feedback policy. This now focuses solely on ‘live marking’ and tackling misconceptions at the point of learning, with target pupils identified from Afl – modelling, conferencing and talking through errors have all had a positive impact on progress and deepening learning. I think what this article states – which really rings true in a classroom is effective feedback will look different for every child so knowing your kids and what they need is the key to success.

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