How did the students perceive formative feedback?

We analyzed 128 reflection notes that the students of English wrote in connection with their portfolios to see how they perceive formative feedback. The figure below shows the portfolio process that the students were involved in. They were given three assignments which they received feedback on (teacher, peer and mixed feedback) before revising and submitting. 



Students were also given the opportunity to discuss the feedback they received in class and ask for clarification. They wrote reflection notes during the semester, as well as when submitting their final portfolios. They were asked to reflect on how satisfied they were with their assignments, what the feedback told them to revise, what they learned from the feedback, what revisions they made, and what helped them successfully complete their assignments.

Summing up the students’ experiences with formative feedback as part of portfolio assessment, they:

  •  were generally positive towards portfolio assessment and appreciated having the possibility to work on the assignments throughout the course. The multiple drafting was much appreciated

  • were given the possibility to “recover” from their initial – and sometimes premature – reactions toward the feedback provided, and thus re-evaluate their work in a more objective way

  • were satisfied  with their final assignments

  • reflected on the transversal skills and knowledge gained by working on assignments throughout the course of a semester, e.g. “I feel I have learnt a whole lot of new information which will be useful later. Both in studies, and when the studies are finished”

  •  appreciated teacher feedback, even when it was perceived as critical

  •  found feedback that was specific and offered guidance on how to improve particularly useful

  • sometimes  questioned the ability of their peers to provide adequate feedback. The main concern was the lack of constructive criticism, which leaves the students without guidance on what needs to be improved and how.

  •  make sense of the feedback and take action to improve their work, e.g. using verbs such as “improve” and “revise” to report how they acted upon the formative feedback they received.

One interesting finding was that oral peer discussion sessions were generally highly valued by the students.  None of the students in our study used the term feedback to refer to this kind of informal peer review, even though the main function of peer discussions was to provide feedback on each other’s work. We think oral peer discussion groups is a more effective and useful way of conducting peer assessment – instead of formalized written commentary. In the discussions, students not only help each other, but make sense of the teacher feedback and select the right revision strategies.

If you would like to read more about our analyses of the student reflection notes, visit the article’s home page here. Your institution needs to subscribe to the journal in order for you to download the full article.

How we work differently now

In what ways do we work differently now, when it comes to differentiation, organization and carrying out learning and assessment activities?

Through working with the project, we have been involving students in discussing and defining assessment criteria more systematically than before. For example, one example of an assessment criteria was given to the students by the teacher (“use the APA citation and referencing style”), and they were to discuss and suggest other relevant assessment criteria for the specific assignment given. The discussions and suggestions of assessment criteria were based on the task given and the relevant competence aims in the course plan (“emneplan”).

The project led to students systematically providing and working with feedback by ensuring that we set aside time for planning. We had to be more aware than before when it comes to how the feedback is provided, how it is going to be worked on, how the assessment criteria are developed etc. We spent more time on peer assessment, where students provided feedback to peers on written texts in class. This was done as part of the assignment requirements. Furthermore, compared to before, we had to make sure that we talked about the writing process with the students. They had lectures on formative assessment and formative feedback, and they were made more aware of what it means to write through drafting, editing and revising.

Throughout the semester, the students wrote systematic reflection notes, where we gave them six questions regarding reflections on their writing, the feedback received, the follow-up of feedback and the use of OneNote to work with formative assessment. The reflection notes were written both in and out of class.

In general, the project has led to awareness raising about formative assessment, contributing to back-engineering the English courses. In addition to planning we usually do, like planning forward in time, we needed to take into consideration the whole process from the beginning of assessment work, assessment criteria, development work, reporting to NUV, research project, conferences, assignments, feedback, follow-up of feedback, reflection notes – until the product, being the student presentation portfolios.