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The three best questions to ask for better feedback

The three best questions to ask for better feedback

3 min read
  • Delivering feedback

Giving feedback can be a double-edged sword. The Sutton Trust reports that if it is done right, it can be one of the most effective ways to help someone improve their learning; however, research suggests that 38% of feedback interventions actually do more harm than good. So what counts as good feedback? What are the three most fundamental questions for better feedback?

Better feedback: More complicated than you think?

Psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman once commented that ‘true intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes’. What counts as better feedback? It can be quite tricky, as it requires asking for it in the right way, then the other person has to avoid common feedback mistakes, and then finally this has to be interpreted accurately by the learner

One of our favourite research papers on feedback is this one, by researchers John Hattie and Helen Timperley. We recommend everyone involved in teaching or coaching giving it a quick read. But if you are short on time, here are the three feedback questions they say are fundamental.

The 3 Best Feedback Questions

1. Where am I going?

This starts with the end in mind. It helps provides clarity and focus on what you are working towards. For those who are struggling to answer that question, our blog on ‘How to Do Goal Setting Right’ may help. This is essential for motivation, feedback and learning as it ensures that any subsequent feedback is aimed at helping that individual progress nearer to their required destination.

2. How am I going?

It is important to monitor how you are progressing in regards to your pre-defined goals and targets. This type of strategy, often referred to as metacognition, is seen as one of the most effective ways to help students improve their performance.

Most feedback comes in the form of giving information about someone’s current level or ability. However, the aforementioned research paper suggests that if feedback is done solely through this may be inadequate, as it does not provide the necessary required information needed to prompt improvement, learning and development.

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3. Where to next?

Once students know where they are going and how, it is important to provide feedback that allows for further opportunities for learning. The answer to this final question is to provide information that encourages challenges, self-regulation and the ability to gain a better understanding of the best strategies required to achieve more. This is arguably the most important question of the three.

Final thought

Giving better feedback to students isn’t easy. If done right, however, it has the ability to transform someone’s learning and performance. If done wrong, it can actually do more harm than good. So focusing on what they want to achieve, how they are doing and what they need to do next should ensure we giving students all the tools they need to take their work to the next level.

Metacognition is another great way for students to improve their learning, find out all about it on our ‘How to Improve Metacognition‘ page.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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