Wednesday / May 22

The Two-Way Flow of Feedback

One of the most effective strategies to engage students in their own learning is modeling metacognition. This “thinking about one’s thinking” uncovers personalized feedback to the student. By modeling reflections on students’ work, students soon learn that their own reflective adjustments are what matters most as they grow and progress in their awareness of their own learning. They soon learn to use self-feedback techniques to scrutinize their own work.

In the process of becoming more reflective about their learning, students also understand that feedback isn’t about what’s wrong—it’s about what’s next.  With that in mind, there are many facets that guide the feedback flow for metacognitive reflection for appraising and improving student work.

Two-Way Feedback Flow

Engaging students with feedback begins with teacher observations about what occurs in the teaching and learning process. That said, to know that the feedback flow actually is a two-way flow is significant. Stiggins, 2009; Wiliam, 2011, and Fogarty & Kerns, 2009, write richly about instructional opportunities to optimize feedback from students. They encourage teachers to pay close attention to the endless flow of student work samples, dialogues, peer conversations, homework, and routine instructional tasks. These constitute genuine feedback, cues, and clues about students’ learning. Truly, the observant teacher can glean much relevant data from students, as evidence of their learning.

The other notable way that feedback flows, of course, is the flow of finely-crafted teacher comments, hints, and suggestions to the students (Hatti, 2003; Hattie, & Templay, 2007).  Carefully providing feedback that is immediate, specific, relevant, and actionable is intended to move the students along. Yet, what seems most pertinent in this discussion is that the feedback comes from students to teachers and to students from teachers. This is that continuous, two-way back and forth between students and teachers and it’s how the magic of independent learning happens. It’s how the learning journey toward improvement and perfection is orchestrated in effective instructional scenarios. It’s how a sense of student agency develops.

How do we get feedback from students?

Feedback from students embraces the power and productivity of formative assessments during the course of normal instruction, and allows for endless customizations to student learning. With routine, everyday feedback information gleaned from those deliberate, common learning tasks (work samples, class participation, and specific signaling strategies) that occur throughout the day, teachers can make decisions that truly personalize learning.

In fact, as teachers become aware of the power of optimizing student feedback, they realize that opportunities abound for insightful, metacognitive reflection as students interact in dialogues, small group conversations, and whole group discussions. Finally, there is evidence of rigorous feedback from kids as their thoughts are revealed in deliberate strategies including talk-alouds, problem-solving, and item analysis work-throughs.

How do we give feedback to students?

Feedback explicitly flowing to students before, during, or following a learning session or work time, is determined most frequently, by the teacher. Yet peer feedback, partner back-and-forths, and even trios with a reflective observer in the group often can provide viable and useful coaching tips, hints, and clarifications to allow that student to continue on his way. As a result, students can be more effective and can develop a surefootedness, boosted by that emerging self-confidence.

This feedback to students is best done in a coaching way, not in a correcting way. That’s how students become empowered in their own right to take responsibility for correcting their work. Feedback informs and gives students control over their own learning.

Formative Feedback in Practice

Five strategies from a treasure trove of known and unknown, yet-to-be-invented feedback tactics illustrate how feedback in theory is transformed into feedback in practice. These examples can be woven into routine classroom interactions and are easily tweaked for elementary, middle, and secondary classes.

1. Stoplight Signals: Signal, Respond, Act

Signaling feedback automatically demands actions! You can use green, yellow, and red cards with students to signal you when they may need more help:

  • Show Green: “I’m moving right-along”
  • Show Yellow: “I have a question.”
  • Show Red: “How can I get unstuck? Here’s my thinking…”

2. Easy as 1,2,3!  Revisit, Question, Illuminate.

Student feedback on work samples exposes clarity and confusion. Have students reflect on their processes: “In 3 steps this is what I did: 1, 2, 3! Now, What?”

3. That’s Good Idea! Recognize, Acknowledge, Coach

Use specific feedback to guide students’ work:That’s a good idea because you use a clear graphic that shows you the big picture.”

4. Best Case, Worst Case: Whole Class, Small Group, Individuals

Feedback builds confidence! Have students reflect on their “glows” and “grows”:

“My best case is when I write from an outline; my worst case is when I don’t finish.”

5. Name, Scheme, Rank! Instruct, Improvise, Improve

Teacher feedback enhances performance achievement.

Ask yourself, and name what has worked in the past? Scheme. Ask a friend what s/he has used before? Scheme again. Ask one more person for input. Then rank the three ideas and move on.

Over-time, teachers can “feed” feedback strategies to students to ensure that metacognitive reflection becomes a part of the teaching and learning process. This attention to metacognition and customary, personalized, reflective thinking may well mark the subtle, yet, measureable distance between effective and highly effective teachers.

In Closing

The strategies themselves are the practical tools for infusing personal, relevant feedback to teachers and to students. The essence of feedback as a verifiable and reliable strategy in the k12 classroom is more about the actual, student to teacher and teacher to student interactions. Staying connected, interested, and involved in student/teacher ongoing efforts allows critical information to be shared.

In sum, teachers capturing and responding to feedback from students optimizes cues and clues about student learning, while feedback to the student, based on the teacher’s informed observations, inferences, and decisions, maximizes learning for the students. This continuous flow of feedback information on our two-street fosters personalized learning models.


The Economist: What Works at What Cost? Effectiveness and Cost of Education Strategies. EEF EducEndowFound. (June 9, 2016;  Feb 8, 2018).

Fogarty, R. and G. Kerns. (2009). InFormative Assessment: When it’s Not About a Grade.  Thousands oaks, CA: Corwin Press

Hattie, J.  Teachers Make the Difference: What’s the Research Evidence? Distinguishing Novice from Experienced Teachers. University of Auckland
Australian Council for Educational Research, October 2003.

Hattie, J and Temperley, H. 2007. The Power of Feedback. Volume: 77 issue: 1, page(s): 81-112. Issue published: March 1, 2007

Jackson, R. (2017). The Anatomy of Good Feedback. Mindsteps, Inc.

Kerns, G. .2018. Personalized Learning: White Paper. WI : Renaissance Learning.

Wiliam, D. 2009. Embedded Formative Assessments. Melbourne, AU: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Written by

Brian M. Pete is co-founder and CEO of Robin Fogarty & Associates. Educated at DePaul University of Chicago, he has worked, exclusively, with the adult learner for the past seventeen years in schools throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and in the Middle East GCC-Bahrain, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Recently, Brian has co-author of the 2nd edition of From Staff Room to Classroom I and II, Corwin Press. Supporting Differentiated Instruction, How to Teach Thinking Skills, The Right to Be Literate, the 2017 Teachers’ Choice, Book of the Year. His latest book is Everyday PBL; Quick Projects to Build Problem Solving Fluency with ASCD and reads and writes for a number of blogs. 


Robin J. Fogarty’s doctorate is in curriculum and human resource development from Loyola University of Chicago and has trained educators throughout the world. She has published articles in Educational Leadership, Phi Delta Kappan and the Journal of Staff Development and the Middle School Journal, writes posts for 4 blogs regularly and has authored or co-authored over 30 books for teacher, leader resources. Untapped Talent: The True Story of Developing Student Expertise with Teachers College Press, is the latest book, in press.

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