Making feedback stick

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There’s really no argument about the fact that feedback is pretty important. It sits right at the top of the list of strategies which make the biggest impact on students’ progress. If we’re not giving students feedback on their learning then, frankly, what in God’s good name are we doing? There is nothing else which should have a higher priority in your teaching.

OK, with that off my chest, it’s important to acknowledge that there a couple of problems to be aware of. All, sadly, is not rosy in the feedback garden.

Firstly, most of the feedback students get comes from their peers and, sadly, most of that is wrong. It would seem that nature abhors a lack of feedback almost as much as it does a vacuum: any lack of meaningful feedback on the part of teachers is an opportunity for misinformation to breed.

The second problem is that approximately 70% of the feedback given by teachers to students is not ‘received’. That is to say, the students either don’t read it, don’t understand it, and don’t act on it.

Some of the reasons for this might be:

  • Feedback is most often accepted when it confirms existing beliefs; where beliefs are challenged, feedback is often rejected
  • If you give feedback to the whole class students think it must be directed at someone else and no one ‘receives’ it.
  • Students often find teachers’ feedback to be “confusing, non-reasoned and not understandable” (Hattie 2009)
  • Even when they do understand, they’re not sure how to apply it to their learning
  • Most feedback is related to tasks rather than processes – that is to say it tends to focus on what was done rather than how it was done.

And once you’ve digested all that, there’s also the thorny dilemmas of giving grades and mixing feedback with praise.

So what to do? Prof Hattie suggests that feedback needs to be: ‘just in time’, ‘just for me’, ‘just where I am in my learning process’, and ‘just what I need to help me make progress’. Regrettably, it often isn’t.

Armed as we are with all this knowledge, it’s time to examine some strategies for making feedback stick. At my new school we use a system for recording written feedback called Triple Impact Marking.

The idea is as follows:

  1. Students proofread work and highlight where they have met success criteria – this could either be self or peer assessment.
  2. The teacher corrects misapprehensions and asks questions about the students’ work: How could you…? Why might…? Do you think…? and sets a specific task which will require students to act on the feedback they’ve been given ie. Rewrite the 2nd paragraph ensuring that you…
  3. Students answer the questions and complete the tasks using the feedback they’ve been given.

The hard bit is forcing yourself not to correct students’ work but instead to get down and dirty with a spot of dialogic questioning. I found this a real mental gear shift and at first struggled to find the best sorts of questions to prompt meaningful reflection at stage 2. My experience is that it’s best to ask something concrete like “How many adjectives have you used?” rather than something abstract like “Is your writing descriptive enough?” This will get the student to read their work back but also gets them thinking about whether using only 2 adjectives was really enough to qualify their writing as descriptive.

Of course, for all this to have any impact at all, the next time must be as soon as possible. Asking students to hold feedback in their heads indefinitely doesn’t work: there must be given an opportunity to act on it next lesson. So, to  maximise the impact of marking we need to commit to giving our feedback as soon as possible and then beginning the next lesson with Dedicated Improvement and Reflection Time (DIRT) so that they have an immediate opportunity to improve. This feeds neatly into my maxim that marking is planning (and the very best form of differentiation).

For me the most crucial aspect is that feedback should not come at the end of something. If it’s to be meaningful it has to happen during the process in which students are engaged. Now as this isn’t always possible during a lesson we need to plan for opportunities to act on feedback. Why not use the Learning Loop planning model to ensure that these opportunities are built into your schemes of learning?

We’re often in a rush to cover the next bit of the curriculum but this is yet another reminder that sticking rigidly to schemes of work and ploughing on with the next part of the course is a sure-fire, guaranteed way of preventing students making progress. And who wants that?

Related posts

Feedback: it’s better to receive than to give
The joy of marking
Work scrutiny: what’s the point of marking books?



  1. A Smart July 16, 2012 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    Indeed, my dissertation for linguistics MA many years ago now (!) was on what constitutes good writing and it looked a lot at feedback from teachers and what students felt about it. Turned out many teachers, in my sample anyway, didn’t even comment in their feedback on what the actual point of the task was…e.g. If you tell them not to worry about spelling because the focus is on sentence structure, why then mark and only comment on the spelling? Mixed messages = confusion and lack of progress.

  2. Xris32 July 19, 2012 at 11:39 am - Reply


    My approach towards feedback is influenced by Keith West’s ‘Inspired English Teaching’. In the book, he puts forward a way of marking that gets rid of grades and levels. A piece of work is marked out of 30 and the marks are broken down into different components. For example: 7 marks for paragraphing, 7 marks for punctuation, 7 marks for sentence structure, etc. It is quite empowering as I set the weighting and focus of an assessment.

    I have applied this to some assessments – not all as I think it wouldn’t be truly effective. I follow this pattern:
    • Mark a student’s work out of 30 – breaking that mark down further into the aspects
    • Students highlight their strongest point and weakest point
    • Students select one area to improve (doesn’t have to be their weakest area)
    • Students then rewrite a paragraph using guidance given
    • I remark the paragraph just for that particular aspects again and highlight further areas for improvement
    • Next assessment students look back at this work and process.

    For me, the key area is getting the students engaging in feedback. I wanted to get the students to do something with feedback and act on it. This approach isn’t as labour intensive as it seems. My marking will only be a few numbers and some highlighting. However, I can see clear progress between the original piece of work and the new paragraph. I do equate a mark to a level at the end of the process, but not every time.

    The guidance I give is important. For each area given a mark I have a sheet. The students will collect a sheet and sit next to a person that it is strong in their area of weakness – they can teach them if necessary. On the sheet will be criteria for full marks, a list of tips and some examples of the technique or an aspect in use. At the bottom of the sheet will be space for a paragraph. The student takes a paragraph from the original text and rewrites it using the guidance given. When they have finished, they can tick what they have or haven’t used. I mark the new paragraph and armed with a highlighter I point out what they need to do next.

    Then next time they complete a similar piece of work they can look at their marks: Punctuation: 4/7 Spelling: 3/3 Paragraphing: 2/7 Presentation: 3/3 Vocabulary: 5/7 Content: 2/3. They then have a starting point and the progress can be tracked.

    My department has adopted this approach so that each classroom has a set of these tips / criteria. When a class is completing an assessment, a student can pick up a sheet and use it in their writing. We have these for both reading and writing skills.

    In my experiments I have adapted it to other aspects of teaching English. One area I use it for is paragraph writing. For my C/D students I teach them to BLAB (Behaviour / Language / Audience / Bigger Picture (context)) when writing about a play. They write a paragraph and I mark it by giving a number for each of these aspects. They redo the paragraph improving the aspect. It is great for me because I can pinpoint advice and it isn’t so general. I mark PEEing in a similar way.

    People might say it is reductive. I agree it can be, but I use it in my arsenal of tools to teach. It means my feedback is minimal but specific and effective. I don’t drown work in red ink, or green ink, but work with students to see what they need to do to improve and how they will do it.

    I will tweet some pictures of the resources I use.



    • Beverley Gardner July 2, 2014 at 6:57 am - Reply

      Hi David. Really like your article… Works well with the stuff we’ve done around Hattie’s model of feedback. Can you tell me where you got the statistic that 70% feedback doesn’t stick? Is it from research, or your own estimate?
      Thanks Beverley

      • Leigh August 20, 2015 at 3:03 am - Reply

        Did you get this answer? I’d be interested to know the answer.

  3. […] I visited David a few months ago way back in June at his new school, Clevedon Community School.  Upon leaving it was clear that he left an impressionable mark on my teaching and learning philosophies and practises, including upskilling me in the ways of SOLO taxonomy, the Learning Loop and Triple Impact Marking. […]

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    […] classroom. Shockingly, an assertion made by David Didau in his wonderful article about marking (  is that students view feedback as “confusing, non-reasoned and not understandable.” […]

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  18. Helen December 23, 2014 at 10:37 am - Reply

    As a ‘beginning teacher’ (i.e. PGCE student) I really enjoy reading your articles. I am doing an assignment on Formative Assessment…. so I wondered if you could provide a references for some of the points you made above, namely: (a) “…most of the feedback students get comes from their peers and, sadly, most of that is wrong.” and (b) “…. approximately 70% of the feedback given by teachers to students is not ‘received'”. Thank you. Helen

    • David Didau December 23, 2014 at 11:25 am - Reply

      Hi Helen – the peers comment comes from Graham Nuthall’s The Hidden Life of Learners. Can’t remember the source for the 70% comment.

      Thanks, David

    • Leigh August 20, 2015 at 2:59 am - Reply

      Did you find out where the 70% quote came from?

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Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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