Episode 30 Five Characteristics of Great Feedback

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Hi and welcome to the Effective Teaching podcast. In this episode I am going to provide you 5 characteristics of great feedback. The reason I am doing this is twofold. Firstly, because feedback is vital in learning and can be used to help students begin to provide their own feedback and helps to establish them as lifelong learners. And Secondly, because all too often I see teachers getting it wrong. They spend so much time telling students what they did wrong and not nearly enough laying out what the student should be doing to get better next time.

No Score 

Our first characteristic of effective feedback is to ensure you are not providing a score. It has been known now for a long time that if you provide a score on anything that is given back to the student they will look at the score and then the feedback is either completely discarded or seen through the lense of that score. 

So for example, if Jane was given 40%, if she then reads her feedback it will be read from the position of “I suck at this”. However, if Amy received 90% she may read it from the perspective of “I am already fantastic at this”. Both students therefore do not take in the feedback at all.

Given we want our students to:

  1. Read the feedback with the intention of improving, no matter where they are at
  2. Respond to this feedback by changing what they are doing

It makes sense that we should leave the mark or score off the feedback. This will at least help increase the percentage of students who read the feedback, and hopefully from the right mindset.

Give time to improve with the feedback 

If we want our students to act on any of the feedback, we really should be looking to provide this time in class. This is our second characteristic – give time along with the feedback for students to actually improve. 

I love asking teachers “What is the best use of class time?” Often we come up with very similar answers, because we all know that it involves something where we are available to actually help our students with the higher-order thinking or at least when we are available to help them develop and learn in their zone of proximal development – that area just beyond what they are currently capable of, but is not so far that it is seen as impossible. This zone normally requires some form of help from the teacher. This could be in the form of feedback, but it can also be in the form or scaffolds, teaching structures, providing guiding questions or something similar.

For this reason, I really want to encourage you to provide your students some time in class to read their feedback and then action the feedback. Now, if the feedback is on an assessment that has already been submitted and graded then maybe provide them with something that is similar where they can practice the improvements that you want them to show. Redoing and old assessment task will not often be seen as valuable to a student. But if they are applying the feedback to a new task, they can come around and become much more motivated and active in the learning. So I encourage you to provide both support and a form of action. 

Provide the minimum support needed for students to improve

Now our third and fourth characteristics have already been mentioned, but I will quickly go over them. So the fourth characteristic is to provide the minimum support needed for the student to improve. This is where you might provide a scaffold for them, give them a link to some content if them that they need to revise or even pair them up for an activity where they are working together on another project but applying the feedback. 

The important bit here is that you are not providing everything they need to improve nor are you doing it for them. You are providing the coaching that they need (and I do often liken my teaching to sports coaching) so they can do the learning in their zone of proximal development.

Action-oriented – outlining a series of steps the student needs to take to improve

Next is to provide feedback that is action oriented. Your feedback should specify something the student could do that will help them improve in an area they are struggling with. 

For example, if Joe provided information that was incorrect in his presentation you might tell him he needs to revise this specific content, create 3 flashcards on it and go over them until he knows them. But if Sam struggled to look up at the audience as he spoke, you might provide actions such as practicing his speeches in front of his family, friends or you before he has to do it infront of his class. Or maybe give him actions thay will improve his confidence, such as putting his notes on cards with the key words in bold to help him find his place again or doing more practice run throughs in front of a mirror to help him be sure he knows what he is going to be saying on the day.

It is important that these actions will help improve future performances, not just the current performance that they have already completed. 

Minimal praise (and if so, specific and credible)

The final characteristic is to minimise the praise that is for praise sake. You should identify strengths and make it clear where they have done a good job, but this is different to praise. Praise is general and often has little to not evidence given with it. An example might be “this essay has some great paragraphs” or “I really liked the effort you put into your performance”. Neither of these actually say what it was that was good. It would be better to say “I love how you put together your paragraph explaining the water cycle. It painted a clear picture in my head when you provided such a clear example.” Or “You were very energetic in your defense which provided great hussle and put pressure on the opposing team.” 

So make sure you provide specific positives rather than general praise. General praise is inauthentic, which students can smell a mile away. It then makes them less open to your advice for how to improve. Just keep it real with them and they will appreciate it.

They are our 5 characteristics. Obviously there could be more, like being future oriented, but I feel like this has been done already. 

Take some time this week to provide your students with feedback using these 5 characteristics and see how they respond. I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments. This approach will help your students to learn and as a result will help them to enjoy learning and become lifelong in this endeavour. 

I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you did please leave a review and let others know. 

Looking forward to chatting with you next week.


  1. Cathy Buchanan-Hagen

    Thanks Dan. Explicit, concise information.

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