Evidence review outlines three principles of effective teacher feedback

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teachers should adopt three principles of effective feedback rather than worrying about whether feedback is delivered verbally or written down, an evidence review has concluded.

An in-depth report – entitled Teacher feedback to improve pupil learning – has been written by Joe Colin and Alex Quigley and published by the Education Endowment Foundation (2021).

It says that rather than becoming preoccupied with choosing between feedback methods, such as written or verbal, schools should focus on issues such as the timing of their feedback and ensuring that pupils act on feedback.

Evidence in the EEF’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit shows that effective feedback is one of the most powerful levers for supporting pupil progress – adding a potential eight months of additional progress across an academic year (EEF, 2018).

The new report draws on international research evidence as well as current practice in schools and sets out three “principles which underpin good feedback”:

  • Teachers should lay the foundations for effective feedback with high-quality initial teaching that includes careful formative assessment.
  • Teachers should deliver appropriately timed feedback which focuses on moving learning forward.
  • Teachers should plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback using strategies to ensure that pupils will act on the feedback offered.

The guidance also highlights the importance of a “thoughtfully designed and implemented” feedback policy. It states that a school’s policy should promote and exemplify evidence-informed principles, but that decisions around methods and timing should be left to a teacher’s professional judgement as they respond to the particular learning context of each individual pupil.

DOWNLOAD: Click the download supplement button below to access a poster, produced by the EEF, showing the six recommendations of the report Teacher feedback to improve pupil learning, including the three core principles of feedback

Principle 1: Lay the foundations for effective feedback

Teachers are reminded that “high-quality instruction will reduce the work that feedback needs to do”. Formative assessment should be a key part of this. It adds: “Formative assessment strategies are required to set learning intentions (which feedback will aim towards) and to assess learning gaps (which feedback will address).”

Principle 2: Delivery appropriately timed feedback that focuses on moving learning forward

The report emphasises that there is no clear answer for “when” feedback should be given. It states: “Rather, teachers should judge whether more immediate or delayed feedback is required, considering the characteristics of the task set, the individual pupil, and the collective understanding of the class.”

Furthermore, feedback should not focus on the learner’s personal characteristics and should not include “vague” or “general” remarks. The report adds: “Feedback should focus on moving learning forward, targeting the specific learning gaps that pupils exhibit. Specifically, high-quality feedback may focus on the task, subject, and self-regulation strategies.”

Principle 3: Plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback

The report states: “Careful thought should be given to how pupils receive feedback. Pupil motivation, self-confidence, their trust in
the teacher, and their capacity to receive information can impact feedback’s effectiveness. Teachers should, therefore, implement strategies that encourage learners to welcome feedback, and should monitor whether pupils are using it.

“Teachers should also provide opportunities for pupils to use feedback. Only then will the feedback loop be closed so that pupil learning can progress.”

Verbal and written feedback

The report says that the method of feedback is not as important as following the three principles above.

On written feedback, such as comments, marks and scores, it states: “Written feedback may be effective if it follows high-quality foundations, is timed appropriately, focuses on the task, subject, and/or self-regulation, and is then used by pupils.”

However, schools must be aware of the “opportunity cost” of written feedback on teachers’ workload.

On verbal feedback, the report adds: “Verbal methods of feedback can improve pupil attainment and may be more time-efficient when compared to some forms of written feedback.”

Commentary from Dylan Wiliam

The report has been endorsed by Professor Dylan Wiliam, the emeritus professor of educational assessment at the Institute of Education at UCL, who has written a guest foreword in which he addresses the three principles. He states:

Principle 1: “The reason that effective feedback requires careful preparation is because the quality of feedback that a teacher can provide depends crucially on the quality of the evidence about learners’ achievement that is available. If a teacher cannot think of what to say to a student – having seen the student’s work – then the fault is most likely that the questions, task, or activities that were assigned were not designed with a view to giving feedback in the first place. The starting point for effective feedback is eliciting the right evidence.”

Principle 2: “The main role of feedback, at least in schools, is to improve the learner, not the work. The idea is that, after feedback, students will be able to do better at some point in the future on tasks they have not yet attempted.”

Principle 3: “The only thing that matters with feedback is what learners do with it. If learners have no interest in improvement then no matter how thoughtful and insightful the feedback is, the time that teachers spend on crafting the feedback is likely to be wasted. For feedback to be effective we need to create classrooms where students welcome and use feedback.”


The guidance is part of an EEF series providing evidence-based advice for improving teaching in areas for schools, including behaviour, literacy and science.

Professor Becky Francis, CEO of the EEF, said: “Done well, feedback can support pupil progress, build learning, address misunderstandings, and thereby close the gap between where a pupil is and where the teacher wants them to be. This process is a crucial component of high-quality teaching, which has never been more important as schools look to recover their pupils’ learning in the wake of the pandemic.

“However, large amounts of time are spent providing pupils with feedback, perhaps not always productively. Historically, much consideration has been given to the methods by which feedback is delivered. Our report aims to move beyond this and focus on what really matters: the principles of good feedback. These focus on laying strong foundations for feedback, ensuring that it serves to move learning forward, and that teachers plan ahead how it will be received and used by their pupils.”

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