What is formative feedback? (and why we should care)

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What is formative feedback? (and why we should care)

What is formative feedback? (and why we should care)

Formative feedback is information on our thinking or our performance that gives us time to reflect and act on that feedback. Feedback is descriptive, evaluative, and suggestive. That is, good feedback shows us what we are doing, provides some sense of how we are doing relative to our goals, and provides some suggestions for how we might improve. Having said this, simple descriptive feedback can be quite powerful.

Processing feedback requires reflection. There is immense value in regular reflective practice regardless of your role or responsibilities. Taking time to critically examine how our experiences align with our expectations creates opportunities for us to identify opportunities for learning. Engaging in reflection as an iterative practice creates a norm of growth and improvement. 

Summative evaluations of our teaching at the conclusion of each semester play a role in our institutional accountability. We can certainly learn from end-of-semester feedback and many educators do. However, if this is the only opportunity for students to provide course feedback, it comes at a time when they themselves are past the point of benefiting from it. 

Formative, mid-semester feedback, however, creates an opportunity for educators to engage learners in the process of reflective practice. Intentional reflection through mid-semester feedback can help explore the initial assumptions made about a class, gain insights from learners, and develop a more comprehensive awareness of teaching practice. Generally, because the knowledge gained through this process of reflection happens with students who have a stake in the course, this reflective practice strengthens teaching practice. Finally, it is important to note as our colleagues at Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching have noted, “soliciting mid-semester feedback can improve our end-of-course evaluations, as it will both improve the quality of the course itself and provide students with early opportunities to raise concerns with the course.”

Finally, it is essential to note that mid-semester feedback is provided in confidentiality by students. Survey administrators will tabulate and send data to you. No one else will see or have access to the information collected on your course. 


Adapted from the Enhanced Digital Learning Initiative at MSU: Scott Schopieray (CAL), Stephen Thomas (Nat. Sci.) Sarah Wellman (CAL & Broad), Jeremy Van Hof (Broad).

source: Finlay, Linda (2008). Reflecting on ‘Reflective practice’. Practice-based Professional Learning Paper 52, The Open University.