Of course, this is a dramatic generalization, but let’s be honest: the whole education system is built on summative, (e.g., giving a grade) rather than, formative feedback (e.g., useful advice on how to improve).

While it could be argued that many schools and education systems are different, when I look back at my own education, as well as on the many conversations I have had while reflecting on my children’s education, any feedback received has been summative. Summative feedback with the absence of or limited formative feedback is what I call low-quality feedback. This is like the annual performance review, for example, that offers no or limited formative feedback. Even if feedback is given, the recipient is not really internalizing it, as it mixed with judgment. This is also similar to an assignment handed back at university, which receives a grade and some feedback, but nothing prior to that—the feedback, at that stage, is mostly redundant, as the assignment is done, and the students have no opportunity to improve it.

Feedback, we know, is critical, especially in light of the research shared by John Hattie’s in his incredible book on learning systems called, Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating To Achievement. Hattie (2013) outlines those things that make the biggest difference in terms of student achievement; formative feedback (ongoing feedback rather than evaluative feedback), he notes, is ranked third out of 138 influences on success. Third. It trumps socioeconomic status, teacher-student relationships, problem-based teaching, parent involvement, and another 130 others! Formative feedback is critical for any achievement.

And, it’s not just students and parents who thrive with this kind of feedback. Teachers, likewise, need and desire formative feedback. Bill Gates, in his work on improving feedback to teachers, so they can be more effective in the classroom, discovered that 98 percent of teachers only get one word of feedback all year long, and that word is “satisfactory.”

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