Challenging Learning Through Feedback

Last year our staff began looking at the research in one of James Nottingham’s recent books. He has challenged us to think about the feedback we give to students, and to each other. He makes the point that we all already use feedback daily but questions whether we using the right kind of feedback, the kind that can ‘double the rate of learning’, or are we like many schools using the kind of feedback that is outdated.

Nottingham talks about some of the common myths about feedback:

  • All feedback is good;
  • Feedback should be given at the end of the learning process; and
  • Grades (or marks) help with the learning process.

He says that ‘all of these myths are misleading and sometimes untrue’.

Nottingham says,

‘is it much better to think of feedback as any message, formal or informal, verbal or non-verbal, written or spoken – that helps shape the receivers next response. Thinking about it this way will make it much more likely that feedback becomes an integral and everyday part of the learning process’.

I don’t think any of this has been new for us. What has given us a greater depth of understanding is the four levels of feedback to ensure that we are providing feedback across all of the areas:

  1. Task-Related
  2. Process-Related
  3. Self-Regulation
  4. Self-Related


Nottingham challenges us to be mindful of the difference between praise vs feedback vs grades (ie a final score). Praise is not the same as feedback, it is nice for the students (for all of us actually) but praise will not contribute to learning, and ‘praise might be counterproductive and have negative consequences on students’ self-evaluations of their ability’. Praise that relates to the processes related to learning, however ‘can assist in enhancing self-efficacy and can therefore help with the learning process’.

Does grading count as feedback?

‘When we give students a grade the learning stops. When we give students specific feedback and an extending question, the learning goes deeper’. Nottingham goes on to say ‘if you feel obliged to give grades, then keep them separate from feedback’.

So why do we give grades? We give grades because we are looking for some summative results to record what a child has learnt. We also give grades because parents look for these. But we should not give grades as a form feedback.

Yes there is scope for praise and grades (or marks) but we are not to confuse these with feedback as feedback directly improves student learning, praise is nice, sometimes grades are nice, but praise and grades do not add value to student learning.


  1. What are you trying to achieve?
  2. How much progress have you made so far?
  3. What should you be doing next?

Ultimately, we want our students to ask themselves:

  1. What am I trying to achieve?
  2. How much progress have I made so far?
  3. What should I do next?

Finally to end with a quote from John Hattie (2009)

The effect of feedback on learning…suggests average percentiles on learning outcomes of between 50% and 83% improvement’

Janelle Ford Deputy Principal