Helping students incorporate instructor feedback

Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal (Sadler, 2010).

In articles I read about student peer feedback, Sadler’s work is repeatedly referenced–hence my interest in reading this paper. Below are some of my notes from “Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal” by Dr. Royce Sadler.

Sadler argues that “regardless of levels of motivation to learn, students cannot convert feedback statements into actions for improvement without sufficient working knowledge of some fundamental concepts.” (p.537)

  • “For students to be able to apply feedback, they need to understand the meaning of the feedback statements.” p.535
  • Ideally, feedback helps students engage in divergent thinking (ie, not memorization, not one narrow response)
  • The literature on feedback has often declared that feedback aids learning (i.e., it can accelerate learning)

Those who have studied how students respond to instructor-provided feedback, acknowledge that, in order to improve communication, we need to:

  • Raise students’ understanding of assessment criteria
  • Recognize that the medium of communication matters (certain comments/ideas/etc are more likely to be communicated in writing, others more likely to be communicated orally. See p.537)

Challenges associated with feedback:

  • Feedforward and feedback are essentially about telling and disclosure and typically consist of 1-way messages from instructor to student.
  • Students have trouble assimilating feedback from instructors into an existing knowledge base.
  • “Complementary attention should therefore be directed to what students make of the feedback, rather than just its composition. Seen from the learner’s perspective, this represents an emphasis on visibility (to the student) rather than disclosure (by the teacher)” ” (p.539) [I really like that quote]

Interpretive challenges faced by students

Students face at least three interpretive challenges when trying to capitalise on feedback. In order to be able to make critical connections between feedback and their work, students need to have knowledge/understanding of three relevant appraisal terms and concepts. Sadler urges that “these assessment concepts must be understood not as abstractions but as core concepts that are internalised, operationalised and applied to concrete productions” (p.548).

The core concepts are:

  1. Task Compliance.  Did the student comply with the basic specifications of the assignment? A simplistic example would be: if the instructor asked for an essay, did the student produce an essay (vs, let’s say, a podcast).  I’m oversimplifying here.
  2. Quality.  Sadler defines quality as “The degree to which a work comes together as a whole to achieve its intended purpose” (p.544). Determinations of quality require judgements of many different things and also require diverse forms of judgment. As such, we need to create planned opportunities for students to practice with feedback.
  3. Criteria. A criterion is a “property or characteristic that is useful in the context of quality and quality determinations” (p.544). Students need help grasping the role and nuances of the criteria used in the assessment. Part of the challenge here is that some criterion have sharp boundaries and others don’t.

Even once the students understand these concepts, learners still face the challenge of assimilating the teacher’s feedback into an existing knowledge base so that it can be drawn on in the future (and this task draws on tacit knowledge, as well as an understanding of the concepts). “As with all learning, newly acquired knowledge needs to be consolidated before it decays if it is to have any positive influence on future works” (p.540).

A helpful summary from the section“A way forward”

Sadler writes:

“There are four basic tasks for peer appraisal, and they can be expressed as questions in the following order.

Does a particular response qualify as an attempt to address the issue specified in the task description? This is a category question, not a quality issue, and can be decided only after analysing the work as a whole.

The next question is: How well does the work achieve the purpose intended? This gets to the heart of the determination of quality.

Third: What are the grounds for the judgement reached, using whatever criteria are appropriate to substantiating the valuation?…

The fourth and final question is: How could the work be substantially improved? This requires advice in terms of the work as a whole, and on specific deficiencies or weaknesses.” p.547

 

Reference: Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 535-550.

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