Requesting Formative Feedback

Formative feedback is crucial for the ongoing development of instructors. Through requesting formative feedback, instructors have the opportunity to achieve two outcomes:

  • Learners and instructors engage in reflective practice around the teaching/learning exchange
  • Learners and instructors develop proficiency in providing and receiving feedback, so that it becomes another learning tool.

Instructors can use a 5-step strategy in face-to-face and virtual classrooms to elicit formative feedback from learners. It is anticipated that instructors will customize the exercise by changing the wording to more effectively meet individual pedagogical needs and personality.

Four-Step Strategy for Requesting Formative Feedback from Learners

1. Preamble

Begin with a short explanation that defines formative feedback and indicates its value.

For example, As many of you know, my goal is to facilitate your learning in the area of _____.To help me most effectively meet your learning needs, I am requesting your formative feedback. This is feedback you provide while you are still learners in this class. It will enable me to learn what I am doing that contributes to or gets in the way of your learning, and it will enable you to make suggestions we may be able to implement. Thank you for reflecting on your learning experience in this class and providing your comments. You will receive a summarized version in the next class, and an opportunity to discuss them.

You will also have the opportunity to provide summative feedback in the form of learner evaluations at the end of this course.

2. General Instructions

For this feedback exercise, please try to:

  1. Separate the content you are learning from the actual learning process
  2. Focus on the learning process
  3. Use descriptive rather than judgemental phrases to express your views.
  4. Provide your feedback in terms of "more" or "less"

For example, if you say, "this class is great!!" I'm glad, but I don't know why, nor how to replicate what makes it great. I will find it more effective if you say, for example:

  1. "I generally understand concepts better when you use anecdotes to explain them. Please use more stories"
  2. "Could you assign fewer readings prior to class? I find it difficult to understand them until I have more context"
  3. "I understand abstract material better when we work with it in teams. Can we have more team exercises and fewer individual ones?"

In other words, if I know what it is helpful to your learning, I can try to keep doing it. If I know what hinders your learning, I can try to change it, or at least provide a rationale.

3. Suggested Questions

Once an instructor has determined the material or instructional strategy on which he/she most wants feedback (i.e. a precise section just studied, a discussion, written feedback on assignments, level of intellectual challenge, clarity of explanations), learners should be asked to reflect on that material and respond to the following three questions:

  1. What enhances your learning?
  2. What impedes your learning?
  3. What suggestions do you have for improving our teaching/learning exchange?
  4. Suggested sentence openers for Instructors to include

Ask learners to begin their sentences with the following phrases:

  1. I find it helpful when...
  2. I don't find it helpful when...
  3. I would like to make the following suggestion:

4. Follow-up

After reading the results, instructors should summarize the general meaning of the comments. The next time the instructor meets with the learners, either virtually or face-to-face, the instructor should thank the learners for taking the time to reflect on their learning process and for providing the feedback. Mention the changes that can or cannot be made, and explain how the changes will be implemented.

Anonymous or signed feedback forms?

There are several schools of thought on this subject, but if learners express reluctance at providing feedback with their name on it, there are different options such as anonymous feedback forms or on-line surveys. Alternatively, instructors can respond to learners who object to signed feedback forms that instructors regularly provide learners with feedback, and the learners know who wrote it. Finally, instructors can remind learners that providing feedback to colleagues, superiors, and employees is a valuable skill that will serve them well in the 'real world' and a skill that learners can practice within the safe environment of the classroom.