Assessment and Feedback: The Key to Student Success

Posted by Haili Hughes - Last updated on August 31, 2023

A student progressing via assessment and feedback form their teacherFormative assessment lays the foundation for effective teacher practice. An excellent teacher needs to know the starting point of their students’ learning and adapt their teaching to meet the needs of all learners.

This blog will explore how to do formative assessment well and what effective feedback looks like, before exploring whole class feedback and self-regulation.

Jump to sections of this blog:


What is Formative Assessment?

Formative assessment is any learning activity which reveals information to teachers and learners which can be used to improve learning. This is distinct from summative assessment, the intent of which is to provide terminal grading. Formative assessment allows teachers to understand where a learner is currently 'at', so that the teacher can a) adapt future instruction to better meet learning needs b) consider differentiating their support, and c) enable effective feedback to and between learners.

Here Dylan Wiliam 'unpacks' formative assessment a little further and places it within the context of feedback and learning intentions.

He discusses the role of:

  • broad learning intentions
  • activities which show evidence of learning
  • feedback that moves learners forward
  • activating students' as learning resources
  • students with ownership of their learning


What is feedback

Feedback in the classroom can be defined as “information allowing a learner to reduce the gap between what is evident currently and what could or should be the case” - John Hattie, 2014

Feedback can come from many places, from the teachers, from other learners and most powerfully, from self-regulating learners themselves.

When students receive effective feedback, it helps them to understand where they are in terms of the objective or outcome, where they should be, and how to close the gap between the two. Effective feedback, therefore, has a focus on learning.


Effective Feedback

What does effective feedback look like?

It has been shown that the focus of feedback and the form it takes, can have a significant impact on learning outcomes. Crucially, this impact can be either positive or negative. Effective feedback is specific, timely, and actionable. It should focus on the student's learning, rather than their personality or effort. It should also be timely, so that students can use it to improve their work. Finally, it should be actionable, so that students know what they need to do to improve their work.


What are some of the characteristics of effective feedback?

Good feedback causes thinking!

  • task-involving rather than ego-involving
  • focussed on what to do to improve and how to do that
  • avoids student self-preservation, instead motivating incremental development

In this video, Dylan Wiliam explains more…


So, how can your feedback - and the questions within it - be more effective and enable more metacognition?

First, let's remind ourselves of the importance of why a blend of low and high level questioning is effective, and why questioning and feedback are so intrinsically linked.

Doherty (2017) explains:

Low-level questioning aimed at recall and fundamental-level comprehension will plateau classroom learning quickly. Higher-level questions can produce deeper learning and thinking, but a balance needs to be struck. Both have a place and a mixture of questions is recommended.

In the busy environment of the classroom, effective questioning can sometimes present challenges.

Yet without the opportunity to deeply question and provide formative assessment, the reality is that the quality and effectiveness of feedback is likely to suffer, and learners' self-regulation skills won't develop adequately to maintain intrinsic motivation.

Self-regulation: managing one's own motivation towards learning.

Doherty (2017)


The intention is often to give pupils a repertoire of strategies to choose from during learning activities.

These strategies are usually more effective when taught in collaborative groups so learners can support each other and make their thinking explicit through discussion.

Feedback Level


Feedback about the self


Feedback about the task

Good when supported by strategies for learners to try

Feedback about strategies or processes needed in tasks

Powerful in the short term

Feedback about self regulation

Powerful in the long term

Table adapted from Hattie & Timperley (2007)


Providing effective feedback can:

  • Enable learners to understand what they have done well, and what they need to improve.
  • Help to close the gap between where a learner is and where they could, or should be.
  • Help learners to evaluate and subsequently improve their own work.
  • Give teachers a greater understanding of learners’ needs.
  • Encourage intrinsic motivation in learners, which further improves learning


The purpose of feedback

Effective feedback has a focus on learning, rather than superficial features.

The purpose of feedback is to give information about what the learner is doing well and what they need to do in order to improve. When students receive effective feedback, it helps them to understand where they are in terms of the objective or outcome, where they should be, and how to close the gap between the two. Effective feedback, therefore, has a focus on learning.

Shirley Clarke (2001) outlines, however, that a large proportion of the feedback that teachers provide is concerned with issues such as presentation, surface features and student effort. As a consequence, the required focus on learning is neglected.

While teachers claim to give learners high levels of feedback on their work, students often say that this does not reflect their experiences in the classroom.

Indeed, when students are asked what they understand by feedback and why it is important to them, one almost universal theme emerges: they want to know how to improve their work so that they can do better next time (Hattie & Yates, 2014).


How to give effective feedback

Set realistic goals

For feedback to be effective and improve learning, it must assist students in determining which learning goals are realistic and doable. It should also provide students with the required information on how to achieve their goals, and how to close the gap between where they are now and where they need to be. It is, therefore, essential that teachers actively seek to provide students with feedback that provides the information they want, and need, to work out where to go next.

Encourage intrinsic motivation

Feedback of this nature helps to facilitate a shift in learner motivation from an extrinsic, performance-oriented system where rewards are given (based on fixed ability and a comparison to others), to an intrinsic learning-oriented system, based on effort and students' belief in their own ability to learn. By comparing efforts against their past achievements, students become more motivated (and are more likely) to take on new challenges.

Empower learners

Effective feedback also empowers students and improves their self-esteem. This is because it enables learners to be assessed on their own attainment of the learning objective and as they are given the support necessary to improve. Students are also encouraged to take greater responsibility for their own learning as they have a better understanding of what they need to do. Indeed, this is why feedback is a vital aspect of assessment for learning.


How can effective feedback be developed through classroom talk?

  • keep lines of enquiry open rather than closing them down;
  • encourage children to articulate their ideas openly and confidently, without fear of embarrassment or retribution if they are wrong;
  • replace the simple positive, negative or non-committal judgement, or mere repetition of the pupil's answer, by informative diagnostic feedback on which the pupil can build;
  • use reformulation in a way which avoids ambiguity about whether the reformulation signals approval or disapproval;
  • use praise discriminatingly and appropriately and filter out the habitual 'good boy', 'good girl', 'very good', 'excellent', 'fantastic', 'brilliant' etc.


Whole Class Feedback

Whole class feedback is an excellent way of addressing common misconceptions, providing scaffolds and demonstrating what excellence looks like, so that students are able to create a mental model of how to complete the work. They can also be a useful way of providing next steps students can follow to redraft and improve.

Whole Class Feedback sheets (such as the English one below from Andy Codextrous) can also be used on the visualiser and have a space for the teacher to live mark or model an example paragraph. This can be particularly effective for students as they will be able to see the metacognitive steps they need to take.

Showcasing excellent examples of student work is also very powerful as the teacher can then explain why the work deserves praise and pupils can use the model as a barometer for their own work, to help them make any necessary changes - this has the added benefit of developing self-regulation within our learners.

An example sheet for giving whole class feedback

Whole class feedback example taken from Blog: Defining Excellence: How I Use Whole Class Feedback.


How do classroom talk, questioning, pupil talk and effective feedback all link together?

Formative Assessment steps - diagram

The planning and effective use of classroom talk, questioning, and group talk are all essential components of formative assessment and therefore are crucial tools for teachers seeking to provide effective feedback.

Take a look at the diagram which helps to illustrate how we think these components all fit together.


Should I still give advice?

Yes, absolutely. However, it is important to ensure effective feedback has been provided first.

Guidance should come afterwards but may not always be necessary.

When feedback is really effective, a learner can identify next steps by themselves, encouraging independent learning.


What about praise?

It's okay to praise, but it has little impact on learning and can even have a negative impact when used indiscriminately.

If you do use praise, it should be about praising a child's effort in relation to the goals they are trying to achieve and their self-efficacy.


UnityPD Assessment & Feedback Learning Module

If you have an IRIS Connect platform account, the UnityPD learning modules can help bridge the gap between theory and practice. Dig deeper into Assessment & Feedback, explore video examples of these strategies in practice and review and refine your own teaching practice. 

Speak to one of our consultants to gain access to UnityPD.

UnityPD Assessment & Feedback Module Banner


References, bibliography and recommended reading:

Alexander, A. (2008) Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom Talk. York: Dialogos.
Black, P., Wiliam, D. (1998) 'Assessment and Classroom Learning.’ Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), pp. 7 — 74.
Hattie, J. A. C., Yates, G. C. R. (2014) ‘Using feedback to promote learning.’ In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, C. M. Hakala (Eds.), Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum (pp. 45–58). Society for the Teaching of Psychology.
Hattie J, Timperley H. (2007) ‘The Power of Feedback.’ Review of Educational Research, 77(1), pp. 81-112.
Jones, K. (2021) Five Formative Assessment Strategies in Action. Woodbridge: John Catt.

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