Formative Assessment Keys: Feedback, Feed Forward

By Liana Loewus — November 21, 2011 2 min read

The NCTE conference has ended. Now that I’m no longer chasing presenters between hotels or waiting in crowded lobbies for crawling elevators, I’ll catch up on some blogging.

At a session titled “Linking Assessment and Instruction,” Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, both education professors at San Diego State University and teachers at Health Sciences High and Middle College, gave the best explanation I’ve heard of how to give and use feedback within the formative-assessment process.

Teachers spend hours and hours grading student papers, said Fisher, only to hand all of those “rich data” back to students. “And what do students do with [the papers]? They throw them out or are compliant and fix them.” He told the story of a teacher who marked sentence fragments throughout a student’s paper. When the student turned the paper in again with corrections, he had inserted “frog.” throughout his text, having misunderstood the teacher’s edits. Obviously, the feedback loop was ineffective—the student did not learn from it.

Poor feedback can also reinforce misconceptions, he warned. In the case above, the student re-did the assignment thinking he’d used full sentences.

Strong feedback, on the other hand, is timely, specific, actionable (pointing students in the direction of more information), and useful, said Frey. Students are given opportunities to re-learn and practice the skill again right away.

The second element of feedback, argue Fisher and Frey, is “feed forward.” That is, teachers should ask themselves: How will I use what I learned in the feedback process to inform my instruction? Feed forward helps teachers anticipate misconceptions and decide what needs to be re-taught and to whom. Too many teachers fail to both a) track their feedback, and b) use the data to alter their upcoming lesson plans.

Fisher described the formative-assessment process used at his school. “We’re not editors marking every error to fix” on an assignment, he said. Rather, teachers correct an error the first time they see it. The second time they see the same error, they put the student’s initials on an error-coding sheet. Then they can easily see which students are struggling with the same skills, and pull them for small-group instruction. Students bring their assignment to the small group, re-learn the skill, and correct their own errors.

It seems so simple. And it can save teachers time in correcting papers. Yet in order for it to work, teachers need to be flexible in their planning and willing to veer from whole-class instruction.

Does this seem like it could work in your class? Do you already use something like it? What are the potential hurdles in implementing this sort of feedback loop?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read