Developing Student Feedback Literacy

Photo of a roofing framework.

Photo by Dakota Roos on Unsplash

by Kristen Mosley

As discussed in last week’s post, feedback is far more than an instructor-led, one-sided instance of communication. Instead, current definitions of feedback focus on student agency and understand feedback as inherently learner-centered, with students actively using feedback to make sense of their progress and enhance their future work.1

Because student sense-making is central to the feedback process, developing students’ feedback literacy is a critical first step to supporting their learning and growth. To develop students’ ability to engage in feedback, both an understanding of social constructivist learning theory and a development of tacit knowledge are helpful. Social constructivist stances are grounded in the interplay of individuals co-constructing knowledge2 – an inherent part of giving and receiving feedback – and the development of tacit knowledge captures the need for students to understand feedback in a way that is difficult to directly communicate.3 Carless and Boud’s (2018) framework for student feedback literacy incorporate both of these perspectives.1 

Four features define Carless and Boud’s student feedback literacy framework:

1. Appreciating feedback: Many students hold misconceptions about feedback which inhibits their perception and uptake. Depending on their K-12 experiences and personal characteristics, students may also hold fixed mindsets and believe they cannot improve and/or understand feedback as “telling” and displace responsibility to the instructor, as opposed to themselves.4 A preliminary part of student feedback literacy is therefore the ability to recognize feedback’s value and intent and appreciate the active role that both instructor and student must take.

2. Making judgments: It likely comes as no surprise that students’ inability to accurately judge their work often precludes the uptake of feedback.5 In order to improve students’ judgments, they need opportunities to self-evaluate their work and receive feedback on their evaluative accuracy. Only when they can accurately judge their work will they be most likely to uptake instructor-provided feedback. The use of exemplars has been shown to support students in more accurately judging the quality of their work and are advised as a means of supporting students’ judgment-making abilities.6

3. Managing affect: Students often struggle with the emotional response that feedback can elicit, particularly when it presents a challenge to expand their perspectives.7 However, positive student-teacher relationships, student self-efficacy and motivation, and signals of care and trust from an instructor can help students remain open and curious when receiving feedback on their work. Embedding these relational aspects of teaching and learning prior to providing feedback can support students in managing their emotional responses to it.

4. Taking action: Ultimately, student feedback literacy necessitates students taking action on the comments they receive. To close the feedback loop, students need motivation, opportunities, and support in implementing feedback. Instructors should therefore be mindful of how and when feedback is given and time is provided for uptake. Well-aligned assessments with timely feedback on the ways in which students can improve upon future work, as opposed to ungeneralizable feedback limited to their prior work, will support students in interpreting and acting on feedback received.8

These four components of student feedback literacy work together to develop students’ ability to understand and apply feedback. Students who are helped to appreciate the purpose of feedback, accurately self-evaluate their own work, and manage their emotional responses to feedback will be more likely to take action, particularly if said action is intentionally embedded in the teaching and learning process.1 Come back in January for a continued discussion on supporting students in giving and receiving feedback!

1. Carless, D. & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: Enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315-1325.

2. Palincsar, A. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 345-375.

3. Polanyi, M. (1958). Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. London: Routledge and Kegan.

4. McLean, A., Bond, C., & Nicholson, H. (2015). An anatomy of feedback: A phenomenographic investigation of undergraduate students’ conceptions of feedback. Studies in Higher Education, 40(5), 921-932.

5. Boud, D., Lawson, R., & Thompson, D. (2013). Does student engagement in self-assessment calibrate their judgment over time?. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(8), 941-956.

6. Carless, D. (2015). Excellence in University Assessment: Learning from Award-Winning Practice. London: Routledge.

7. Forsythe, A., & Johnson, S. (2017). Thanks, but no-thanks for the feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(6), 850-859.

8. Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

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