Helping students engage with feedback

What is it?

Sutton (2012) defines feedback literacy as the ability to both understand and apply feedback from teachers and peers into their own work. Research has shown that even when exemplary feedback practices are used by teachers, if students do not know how to apply feedback, it will have little effect (Withey, 2013;  Winstone et al, 2017).

Helping students to understand the purpose of feedback is part of a culture of assessment for learning. It can shift the focus away from a grading culture, where grades are received, feedback not looked at and students move on to the next assignment. It is therefore fundamental in helping students direct their own learning and increase empowerment around assessment (Winstone et al, 2017).

In addition, the skills required to engage with feedback will be useful for life-long learning and is part of an inclusive curriculum.


Why would I use it?

  • It helps students to manage emotions around feedback and develop a sense of learner identity (Sutton, 2012).
  • Students can then be encouraged to move from understanding to acting on feedback by putting plans into action and setting goals (feedforward as defined by Hattie and Timperly, 2007).
  • The promotion of student self-regulation means that students gradually student become less dependent on teacher feedback and develop the capacity to self-evaluate (Carless et al, 2011), building independence.
  • It shifts the balance of responsibility for assessment and feedback towards the students, and can give them a genuine voice and positive participation rather than complaining about the quality of feedback.


Known issues

  • There is a potential danger to over-responsibilise students in the laissez-faire tradition of assuming students should ‘work out’ tacit standards (O’Donovan et al, 2008), which can potentially justify poor feedback practices (see giving effective written feedback). Feedback and assessment literacy is a partnership between students and academic staff so delivery of feedback is as important as students’ reception of it (Winstone and Nash, 2010).
  • Try to avoid just uploading resources about feedback literacy to KEATS as shown in the links below, and assuming students will engage with them.
  • Consider the optimal time to help students engage with feedback. More formative assessment can help students build the skills and literacy around assessment and feedback as part of a continuous process.



How has it been used?

Sheffield Hallam provides a guide for students how to understand and use their feedback, including resources such an assessment timeline for time management and a template action plan.

A HEA funded project by Winstone and Nash led to the development of a Developing Engagement with Feedback Toolkit (DEFT), which includes a number of techniques and resources.

Dr Geraldine O’ Neill from University College Dublin (UCD) discusses how to help students to engage with feedback.


How can I help students engage with feedback?