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Feedback or Feedforward? It’s All About the Timing

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Jennifer Lemke, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Chris Wilcoxen, University of Nebraska at Omaha

Jeni Langfeldt, University of Nebraska at Omaha


Key Statement: This article explores feedback structures that contribute to students' understanding and performance.

Keywords: Feedback, Timing, Peer Feedback



Background


As educators, an expectation is to provide feedback to students. This includes any information provided to learners about their performance and understanding of an assignment, task, or activity (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Feedback is meant to reduce the discrepancy between the desired outcomes and student performance (Hattie and Timperley, 2007) and provide students with immediate, corrective, and specific opportunities for ongoing improvement (Scheeler et al., 2004). Feedback allows students to identify strengths and areas of growth, gain understanding of complex professional methods, and develop a repertoire of strategies to enhance their performance (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). One important element of feedback constantly overlooked is the time frame in which it is provided. If we want to shape students’ understanding and provide the opportunity for them to apply feedback in meaningful ways, we as the instructors must consider if the timing of the feedback facilitates these outcomes.

In surveys reporting student satisfaction over the past twenty years, the desire for feedback has been one of the most prevalent among students (Carroll, 2014; Winstone & Carless, 2020). If feedback is not provided within an appropriate time frame, it's often viewed as an output of the instructor, an information-giving process to the student, rather than a tool meant to engage the student in examining and enhancing their learning and overall performance.


Photo by Saffu. Unsplash.



Feedback Timing


Immediate feedback, also known as feedforward, refers to when the instructor provides corrective feedback and/or modeling when a problem is noted (Scheeler et al., 2009), rather than the traditional method of waiting until a task is complete (i.e., deferred feedback). Scheeler et al. (2004) found that “targeted teaching behaviors were acquired faster and more efficiently when feedback was immediate” (p. 403). Immediate feedback also reduced the likelihood of students continuing an ineffective practice. This approach provides the learner with information and support that prevents them from making the same mistakes in the future. Feedforward provides recommendations in a way that “facilitates its application to future work” (Skinner et al., 2022, p. 56), rather than receiving guidance after a process is complete or an assignment is graded.


So what feedforward practices can we implement that provide students with immediate, corrective, and specific opportunities to enhance their performance (Scheeler et al., 2004), but that also feel manageable to the time constraints and demands many faculty face? Here are two strategies to consider as you look to embed practices that contribute to enhancing students’ understanding and performance.


Staggered Feedback


We all know how overwhelming it can be when students are turning in an assignment. The pressure builds to ensure our feedback, or feedforward, is both timely and meaningful. A question we might consider is, “Why are all assignments due at once?” Creating student groups with staggered assignment due dates throughout the semester allows for feedback to be broken into more manageable chunks. allotting more time to provide students with high-quality feedback close to or immediately following the assignment due dates. Staggering groups can also be structured to create checkpoints while the work is in progress where the feedback highlights strengths and areas of growth and assists students in making revisions before submitting their final work.


As a bonus, student groups and staggered due dates can also be a way instructors respond to students’ needs and facilitate a student-centered environment. Allowing students to pick their groups and deadlines provides more flexibility and opportunities for them to manage their schedules and work to their capacity. Students are often functioning under significant personal and professional time constraints, so providing options that are responsive to students’ needs will likely result in higher levels of engagement and achievement.


Tell, Ask, Give (TAG)


As we foster opportunities for student voice and choice in the classroom, Tell, Ask, Give (TAG) is another feedforward approach. The TAG strategy provides a framework for students to give and receive quality, immediate feedback. The Tell component of this strategy requires students to provide positive feedback and affirm the work that has been completed. The Ask component encourages students to ask questions and delve deeper into the material being discussed. Finally, the Give component of this strategy encourages students to provide constructive feedback and suggestions for how a piece of work could be improved. See Image 1.


Image 1. TAG! Sentence Starters.


This peer-centered activity is beneficial for both students and instructors. It fosters a culture of collaboration, promotes critical thinking, and increases students’ understanding of course content. TAG can be succinct or contain more depth and breadth. If you are looking for students to provide specific information, you can modify TAG to include longer prompts to help guide student comments based on the course rubric. For example, TAG can provide verbal feedback immediately after presentations. Another option would be to have students exchange work (as a formative check) and provide written feedback in the same class session to consider in finalizing the assignment. Through the use of language frames, TAG provides students the opportunity to give and receive quality feedback in either written or discussion form and instructors more time to model, clarify, and address misconceptions.



Conclusion


Feedback is most impactful when it occurs near, or even during, what is being evaluated. Providing feedback as a qualitative checkpoint gives learners a chance to learn before being evaluated and mold their best possible final product. Allowing learners to provide feedback to their peers helps them strengthen critical thinking and understand course content on multiple levels. And in both staggered feedback and TAG, instructors are freed up to provide more detailed feedback to encourage learner growth.



Discussion Questions

  1. When do you use deferred versus immediate feedback? Which have you found impacts learning more in a given situation and why?

  2. Are you currently utilizing a feedback or feedforward approach?

  3. What new feedforward practice can you implement today that will have a direct impact on students’ understanding and performance?



References


Carroll, D. (2014). Graduate Course Experience 2013: A Report on the Course

Experience Perceptions of Recent Graduates. Melbourne: Graduate Careers

Australia.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational

Research, 77(1), 81–112. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487

Nicol, D. J,. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated

learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in

Higher Education, 31(2), 199–218. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070600572090

Scheeler, M. C., Ruhl, K. L., & McAfee, J. K. (2004). Providing performance feedback

to teachers: A review. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal

of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children,

27(4), 396–407. https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406404027004

Scheeler, M. C., Bruno, K., Grubb, E., & Seavey, T. L. (2009). Generalizing teaching

techniques from university to K-12 classrooms: Teaching preservice teachers

to use what they learn. Journal of Behavioral Education, 18, 189–210.

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10864-009-9088-3

Skinner, D., Gjerde, K. P., Padgett, M. Y. (2022). Importance of goal and feedback

orientation in determining feedback effectiveness. Journal of the Scholarship

of Teaching & Learning, 22(3), 55–75. https://doi.org/10.14434/josotl.v22i3.31866



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