Enhancing teacher feedback


Consider what an EAL teacher needs to do to provide effective feedback:

  • Prioritise the aspects of language and content knowledge, skills and understanding that need attention
  • Frame questions which are purposeful and open-ended
  • Communicate clearly and constructively with students (consider nature of comments and written feedback, tone of voice, volume, speed, gesture and modality)
  • Facilitate reflection
  • Facilitate action

Does the feedback I provide for students help improve their learning?

Feedback is any response made in relation to a student’s work. It can be spoken, written or involve the use of a symbol. It can be provided by the class teacher, an independent assessor or by a peer. It does not always come at the end of a task or activity. Good feedback moves learning forward by including constructive suggestions that are both achievable and understood by students.

Teachers provide feedback in many forms throughout the school year. For each of the types of feedback listed below:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the main purpose of providing feedback in that form?
  • Which types are formative?
  • How does the form of feedback affect student motivation?
Type of teacher feedback Audience(s) Purpose(s) Motivation for Students
Ticks, crosses, symbols (on work)      
Written–short (2 sentences or less)      
Written–long (3 sentences or more)      
Feedback sheets, rubrics      
Grades or scores      

Quality feedback from the teacher is an essential part of formative assessment. Teachers can use the learning and assessment activities not only to make judgements about current student standards (a summative snapshot of students' achievement to date), but also to give feedback about specific aspects of their language skills to guide their improvement. Feedback thus guides feedback and avoids trial and error. Feedback should be constructive and specific, i.e. related to the assessment criteria. It is better to describe the strengths and weaknesses of the performances  and suggest ways to improve, before giving the marks. If marks are given first, students (and parents) are much less likely to listen closely to the descriptions. If students can also ask questions about specific aspects of their progress after each planned assessment activity, they will understand more clearly how to improve their language skills.

View a teacher encouraging self assessment while at the same time providing oral feedback to students.
Why is this feedback so effective? How could it be further improved?

Ideally feedback is not a one-way conduit. The teacher above begins by asking an open-ended question. When giving feedback to both students, she uses four strategies:

  1. asking open and closed questions to build students’ reflective awareness
  2. rephrasing the students' comments to clarify, elaborate or sum-up
  3. providing hints for improvement
  4. using specific examples to illustrate how the hints can be applied.

Note that the students refer to the criteria they were assessed on to guide their thinking about where they are going. (For a very similar criteria sheet, please see the self-assessment form for group interaction.) They use the teacher’s questions and comments to reflect on where their learning is at now. The teacher then names some strategies and provided examples to show how they could improve.

The focus of written and oral teacher feedback can be descriptive or evaluative. Evaluative feedback expresses approval or disapproval and may include a judgement about perceived effort the student invested. It may try to motivate students to work harder, keep going the way they are or praise improvement. However, unless descriptive strategies are also included to guide future learning, evaluative feedback is not formative and is unlikely to enhance future learning, as there is no advice about how to move forward.

When learning intentions reflect longer-term goals, teachers can use feedback to help students set targets in their learning.

  • How can you help students use written, oral or feedback sheets to set targets for improvement?

Characteristics of effective teacher feedback to move learning forward:

  1. Feedback is personal. If group feedback is provided, it should be in addition to personal feedback.
  2. Feedback is based on actual measurement (data) or observation. All the TEAL tasks have been designed to elicit evidence of understanding (or misunderstanding) rather than factual information.
  3. Both teacher and student have a clear understanding of the success criteria for the task and any language issues have been resolved. Students know what a good text, performance or response looks like.
  4. The gap between performance level and the goal is described in language the student can understand.
  5. Specific strengths as well as weaknesses are acknowledged so students understand what they can already do well.
  6. Information and strategies are provided to help students know how to improve. Don’t overload students with too many things at once – one wish or a mission is often enough.
  7. The time interval between performance and feedback is as short as possible. When feedback is provided, students need to have access to the evidence on which the feedback is based. Recordings are needed for oral or performance skills. Providing feedback early in a unit of work gives the student time to act on it and improve.
  8. Students have time in class to think about the feedback and ask for clarification if necessary.
  9. Students respond to the feedback by applying it to future learning. They may improve the original piece of work or may resubmit a new sample altogether. Students may also respond orally or in writing to the teacher to demonstrate the extent they agree or intend to act on the feedback.
  10. The teacher responds to the assessment data to inform future teaching. The information can be used at Year, Faculty and School level to review, plan and improve EAL teaching and learning programs, assist organisational decision-making and effectively identify resources needed. Where possible, information needs to be analysed by gender class and Year to inform decisions about achievement levels, progress over time and current needs.

The unifying principle for effective teacher feedback is that it supports rather than judges student learning – even the best feedback is useless if students don’t understand or cannot apply it to improve future learning.

Suggested question starters for student reflection with effective teacher feedback:

Could you tell me about…?

What did you do well?

Was there anything that surprised you?

Did you notice that…?

What do you think about…?

Did you perform as well as you wanted to?

What choices did you make that…?

What would you do differently if you were to do this task again?

How did you work that out?

How are you planning to…?

What parts are you not sure about?

What preparation would help you next time?

How else might you…?

How could you change this?

Can you think of anything else…?

Some sentence beginnings for effective teacher feedback:

It was really good that you…

I noticed that…

When I read/heard/observed…

We’ve been learning about…

It might be helpful to…

I don’t understand why…

Tell me what you mean…

Maybe you need to think about…

A suggestion for improvement is…

Remember how you used to…

Using feedback sheets and rubrics

There are several important considerations for constructing your own feedback sheets.

Feedback sheets serve several important functions:

  • They are an efficient way to gather and disseminate feedback to learners.
  • They ensure that feedback is deliberately and systematically collected / disseminated on a range of criteria (general or specific).
  • They facilitate learner development by contributing to the learners’ ability to reflect on and communicate about their own learning.

 Feedback sheets typically have three features:

  • Categories indicating level of performance
  • Individual comments
  • An optional scoring / grading component

 Feedback sheets should allow for:

  • Flexibility in how learners might approach the assessed task
  • The language level of the learner
  • Training given to learners to prepare for the task and to reflect on their performances.

Activity 1

Complete the following activity about identifying effective feedback practices.

Then use the grid to reflect on how different strategies enhance or inhibit effective oral teacher feedback.

  1. Which features and strategies are commonly present in your feedback? ✔
  2. Which features and strategies would you like to improve? (Your targets) 
  3. Which features and strategies do you feel are unhelpful for feedback as a feature of formative assessment? ✗
  4. Identify one or two of your targets. Work with a partner to discuss how you can each work further in this area.
  5. Which strategies do you need to plan before you engage in feedback?


  Features of effective oral teacher feedback

Teacher strategies

Teacher talk does not dominate Dialogue is reciprocal Learners’ contributions elaborate or respond to prompts Learners admit to partial understanding Learners are willing to ask questions Learners adjust thinking/ actions as a result of dialogue Learners prioritise which actions will help them most
Closed questions              
Open questions              
Task-based questions              
Evaluative questions              
Wait time to process information              


reinforce vocabulary

Supportive body language              
Encouragement (acknowledging strengths)              
Information about some weaknesses              
Information about all weaknesses              
Strategies for short-term goals              
Strategies for short-term goals              
Feedback about language              
Feedback about product              
Feedback about process              


Activity 2

Look at Oral Task 13, Sample 3, and consider the female student in this sample.

  • What are the student’s strengths? Areas for improvement?
  • How would you explain this to the student?


Professor Chris Davison and Professor. Liz Hamp-Lyons discuss feedback that feeds forward in  Feedback: What, How and Why

The Sweetland Center of Writing gives an overview of some widely shared ideas about giving effective feedback. The site also contains descriptions of a variety of possible ways to put these ideas into practice.

Literacy Today is a web site created by teachers, to suggest ways of enhancing teacher feedback. It contains a section for primary teachers and a section for secondary teachers.

In Discovery Voice: Student Teacher Writing Conferences (YouTube video- 11.23) the teacher provides feedback about student writing and asks questions to help students clarify aspects of their learning. 

This video, Feedback on Learning, (3.17) shows Prof. Dylan Wiliam talking about the difference between ego-involving feedback and task-involving feedback which prompts thinking.

This video (14.05) shows Dr Paul Black and Dr Chris Harrison talking about strategies for effective questions and class discussion. Teachers demonstrate how to encourage students to generate their own questions and how to ensure all students can respond to questions in an open environment. Questioning is seen as a technique to help teachers understand what students don’t yet understand, or only partially understand. 

In this podcast from the 'Beyond the Lectern' series, Professor John Hattie speaks about the power of feedback. He discusses the importance of asking not just 'Where am I going?' and 'How am I going?', but also 'Where to next?' . Although the focus of the interview is the tertiary sector, Professor Hattie's comments are relevant to teachers in the school sector as well. [50 minutes] 

Try giving some oral feedback to two of your EAL  students, recording yourself, then look at your 'performance' and reflect on its strengths and areas for improvement. Then repeat the process.

You might also like to provide feedback using the  Three stars and a wish method. (Modify this form to suit your circumstances.)

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