Supporting the Feedback Cycle in the Classroom

Research shows us that when feedback is given in the right way, it can improve student achievement. Of course, teachers don’t take classes in how to give feedback and so we often fall back on praise comments like “Great job!” or “You did it!” Unfortunately, these accolades don’t impact achievement. Instead, we know now that feedback should be immediate, specific, and purposeful. We also know that feedback does not need to come from just teachers. In fact, student to student feedback can produce a great learning results especially because students feel less nervous or self-conscious getting peer reviews.  Let’s take a look at how to support and nurture feedback in the classroom by understanding that feedback should be a never-ending cycle.

Steps in the Feedback Cycle

This graphic shows the steps in the feedback cycle. It should look familiar to you because it’s based on the ideas of reflective learning. Essentially, asking for and participating in feedback supports students in thinking more critically about their work.

Let’s break down the steps you’ll use to get a feedback cycle up and running in your classroom.

  • Gathers outside information: Students seek feedback on their work. They ask a teacher, peers, parents, or anyone whose judgment they think will help them improve their learning.
  • Analyzes information: This is where students get critical. Teach them they don’t have to take every piece of advice or change things based on every criticism they receive. After receiving feedback, they should determine which feedback points to follow up on.
  • Makes plan for revision: Once they know what feedback information they want to address, students should make a plan for doing so.
  • Implements changes: With a plan in place, students can make revisions.
  • Reflects on work: Before seeking feedback on changes, students should reflect on their work. Feedback is as much their responsibility as it is other people’s. They should have specific questions going into feedback sessions.

How the Feedback Cycle Works in the Classroom

Here’s a hypothetical scenario highlighting the feedback cycle:

Janice has written a fictional story for homework. She hands it in and receives back a rubric with comments from the teacher. The comments praise her use of character and setting development and suggest that she includes more dialogue between characters to help the reader understand what is happening in the plot. Janice decides that including more dialogue is a good idea, because she only has one example of characters speaking directly to each other. For most of the story the narrator tells what is happening. Janice rereads her story and decides where she might add dialogue. She is careful not to plan it in place of character and setting details. Janice makes the revisions and retypes the story. She rereads the new story with more dialogue and decides to go back to revise to add one additional scene to help the reader follow the plot. When she returns the story to her teacher, she asks, “Do you think the added dialogue and the new scene move the plot along better than the last draft?”

In this scenario, Janice is doing most of the legwork. The teacher provided feedback, but the student had to think through what to accept, how to change it, and if the changes improved the work.

Why the Feedback Cycle Improves Learning

As you can see with the scenario above, student engagement is at an all-time high when they receive feedback and are expected to implement changes in their work because of it. Here are some other reasons that feedback and the feedback cycle impact learning so dramatically:

Autonomy: when students receive feedback and have the power to decide on changes, they feel less strictly monitored. Student choice and freedom goes a long way to helping improve learning.

Mentoring: Feedback is a form of mentorship as opposed to unquestionable direction. When you give feedback to students, they are guided in ways that may make their work better, but they also have to put in the work. You’re not simply giving them the answer.

Personal growth: Feedback allows students to show growth almost immediately as they recognize errors or weaknesses in their work and correct it. It takes out the competition that can make some students feel uncomfortable.

Useful in all areas: Feedback isn’t just related to academic subjects. Students can seek and receive feedback in all areas of their lives from study habits to behavior to athletic performance. The more practice they have with receiving feedback and acting on it, the easier it will be for them in the future.

Get students working with feedback as soon as possible and as often as possible. It will build their self-confidence and critical thinking skills. They’ll improve their work every time they take it through the cycle because they’ll be personally reflecting and receiving outside information. Feedback can be notoriously hard to receive, but priming your students now can give them the lifetime experience that many adults wish they had!

Amanda Ronan is an Austin-based writer. After many years as a teacher, Amanda transitioned out of the classroom and into educational publishing. She wrote and edited English, language arts, reading, and social studies content for grades K-12. Since becoming a full-time writer, Amanda has worked with a diverse set of clients, ranging from functional medicine doctors to design schools to moving companies. She blogs, writes long-form articles, and pens YA and children's fiction. Her first YA series, My Brother is a Robot, is slated for release by Scobre Educational Press in September 2015.