What the research says – Feedback

The first and very likely last of my attempts to see how easy/difficult it is for a classroom teacher to research evidence using only online resources on various ELT questions.

Many teachers are interested in the question posed by Chris Wilson/@MrChrisJWilson – What makes feedback good? (Wilson, 2013).

The commenters to the post all more or less agreed that generally feedback should aim to improve the learner – what is known as formative feedback.

What does the research tell us?

A 2008* review article titled Focus on formative feedback by Valerie Shute used between 170-180 sources resulting in some interesting tables of recommendations based on the unequivocal results that were reviewed. e.g. one recommendation discourages the use of praise:

from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)
from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)

Another advises against interrupting a student whilst they are engaged in a task which contrasts somewhat with Adrian Underhill on giving feedback during tasks (Underhill, 2012):

from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)
from Table 3, p 31, Shute (2007)

One table lists some guidelines related to learner characteristics. It is difficult to tell Chris’s learner’s characteristics but let’s assume that this learner’s goal is to show her competence rather than increase her competence, one of the guidelines state:

from Table 5, p 33, Shute (2007)
from Table 5, p 33, Shute (2007)

There is a lot to dig in Shute’s article which I may come back to as updates to this post.

A more immediate classroom conceptualization is provided by Tony Lynch** who talks about making the distinction between slips and errors and getting students to notice the difference (Lynch, ?).

Students are able to correct slips on their own whereas errors need the help of a teacher.

His work recommends the use of student self-transcription of speaking tasks and student recorded audio logs. Teachers can then use the transcriptions and logs to give feedback.

*I initially found the Shute 2008 article on JSTOR repo, but during my search came across the Shute 2007 report for ETS, which the screenshots of the tables are taken from.

**I found initial references to work by Lynch from a search on the British Council directory of UK ELT research 2005-10. It’s a shame that I can get access to a US researcher’s paper but not to a UK one. My google-fu is weak, found article eventually.


Lynch, T. (?) Tips from the Classroom: Student-responsible correction of spoken English. Retrieved 10 January 2013, from http://www.sfu.ca/heis/archive/20-2_lynch.pdf

Shute, V. J. (2007). Focus on formative feedback. ETS Research Report, RR-07-11 (pp. 1-47), Princeton, NJ.

Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1),153-189.

Underhill, A. (2012 Dec 19) Demanding higher in a conversation class [Web Log Post]. Retrieved from http://demandhighelt.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/demanding-higher-in-a-conversation-class/

Wilson, C. (2013 Jan 7) Your accent is terrible – Destructive feedback [Web log Post]. Retrieved from http://www.eltsquared.co.uk/your-accent-is-terrible-destructive-feedback/

Update 1:

In the comments to this post by Chiew Pang/@@aClilToClimb, Dale Coulter/@dalecoulter gives some solid reasons why immediate feedback is necessary.

This reminded me that I did not include any information on timing in my initial post.

The review found that immediate feedback is preferred choice, particularly for relatively difficult tasks but research has also shown that delayed feedback helps with transfer of learning, so one should match feedback with learning goals:

Shute 2008 feedback-timing
from Table 4, p 32, Shute (2007)

Update 2:

Thanks to a tweet by @cdelondon that linked to article on Where are university websites hiding all their research I learnt of this great tool – Institutional Repository Search which claims to look through 130 UK repos. Fab!

Update 3:

Yazikopen, an online directory linking to more than 4000 modern languages articles, brought to my attention by Alannah Fitzgerald ‏/@AlannahFitz.