ACER’s Research Conference 2022 has kicked off today, and this afternoon delegates who attended Dr Fabienne van der Kleij’s presentation, ‘Reimagining classroom assessment and feedback to meet learner needs’, learned about the advantages of a student-centred approach to classroom assessment and feedback.
In this Q&A, Dr van der Kleij – Research Fellow at ACER – expands on why she advocates for a student-centred approach to feedback, rather than the more traditional teacher-led feedback approach.
You presented today at Research Conference 2022 on the topic of reimagining classroom assessment and feedback to meet learner needs. What do you hope delegates take away from your presentation today?
My aim is for delegates to appreciate and understand feedback effectiveness from the student perspective. Research clearly shows that although the quality of feedback and how it is provided matters, its effectiveness ultimately depends on what students do with it. Taking account of student perspectives is therefore critical in meeting learner needs and driving feedback effectiveness.
You are proposing a student-centred approach to classroom assessment and feedback, instead of a teacher-led approach as has been commonplace traditionally. Can you give an example of teacher-led assessment and feedback, and what it would look like if it were student-centred?
A teacher-centred approach to assessment and feedback is best characterised by an Initiation-Response-Feedback sequence. In such sequences, the teacher initiates a conversation (i.e. asks a question), a student responds, and the teacher provides feedback based on the student’s response. Feedback in this context is essentially a one-way flow of information, from the teacher to the student. Such interactions often focus on specific questions that the teacher already knows the answer to. Similarly, written assessments may be accompanied by corrective teacher feedback. Not only is such an approach labour intensive for teachers, it is also limited in effectiveness. Moreover, it is not sustainable. After all, if students are used to being provided with highly specific individualised feedback from teachers, they largely remain passive recipients of feedback.
The key to a student-centred approach is activating students in the feedback process. A critical starting point is to ensure students are aware of what they are working towards and what it looks like to make progress towards and achieve learning goals. This provides the foundation for enabling self- and peer-assessment and feedback processes. In my presentation I showcased various evidence-based tools that teachers can use in the classroom to support such an approach. In combination, these tools enable students to take on the roles of feedback seeker and user, as well as provider. As such, they provide useful scaffolds to keep students on track, individually and collectively.
Why is a student-centred approach important for improving student outcomes?
A student-centred approach is important for two reasons.
The first and probably most important reason relates to effectiveness. Research has long highlighted the potential of feedback to improve student learning. However, decades of research have only showed limited consistent findings. For example, research findings clearly show that more elaborated feedback is generally more effective than simple corrective feedback. Nevertheless, individual studies and meta-analytic studies in particular have demonstrated that the impact of the same feedback differs for individual students. This has highlighted the need to consider how feedback is received, perceived and enacted by students.
Similarly, there is a longstanding tradition of research on the impact of classroom assessment on student learning. However, research findings have often shown disappointing results. In a recent study (Brooks et al., 2021a), my colleagues and I demonstrated the positive impact of a student-centred feedback approach on student learning outcomes in English writing, as evidenced by improved assessment outcomes.
The second reason is that a student-centred approach is more sustainable than a teacher-led approach. A student-centred approach gradually places responsibility for assessment and feedback on students, requiring them to be active. This encourages student autonomy and self-regulated learning. When students are active in the feedback process, they not only make better progress but also reduce the burden on teachers for providing feedback.
Are you advocating a move to this or are there still times when teachers would use a teacher-led approach?
I believe there needs to be a balance between teacher-led and student-centred approaches, but ultimately, the aim should be to activate students as learners. I strongly believe this requires advocating a student-centred approach, which challenges existing conceptions of feedback. This is because research shows that many teachers struggle to develop student-centred approaches when professional learning starts from a teacher-led perspective of feedback.
Instead, starting a professional learning intervention by shifting teacher and school leader perceptions of feedback has proven effective in driving student-centred feedback practices (Brooks et al., 2021b). Teachers may also need to provide more support to students who struggle initially. Yet, the goal should be to foster student self-regulated learning, independence and agency in the feedback and assessment process.
What are some areas for future research on this topic?
I could list many areas for future research on this topic, but would like to highlight two in particular:
- Studies examining feedback effectiveness from the student perspective. Such research is needed to gain detailed insights into how students engage with feedback within particular contexts. It should take account of numerous aspects identified in research as influencing how feedback may or may not result in improved learning outcomes (Van der Kleij et al., 2019).
- Research on how professional learning in student-centred feedback can effectively be implemented at scale. A particularly interesting avenue for further research is sustainability of within-school professional learning, and the role of (middle) school leaders in sustaining and building effective practices.
Brooks, C., Burton, R., van der Kleij, F., Ablaza, C., Carroll, A., Hattie, J., & Neill, S. (2021a). Teachers activating learners: The effects of a student-centred feedback approach on writing achievement. Teaching and Teacher Education, 105, 103387. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103387
Brooks, C., Burton, R., van der Kleij, F., Carroll, A., & Hattie, J. (2021b). Towards student-centred feedback practices: evaluating the impact of a professional learning intervention in primary schools. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 28(5–6), 633–656. https://doi.org/10.1080/0969594X.2021.1976108
Van der Kleij, F. M., Adie, L. E., & Cumming, J. J. (2019). A meta-review of the student role in feedback. International Journal of Educational Research, 98(June), 303–323. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijer.2019.09.005
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