Marking without grades

This is the literature review on p5 of this research report called “Focus on Formative Feedback”, published in 2007.

I’ve posted this so I can refer to it if anyone asks me where the evidence comes from next time I assert that students should not regularly have graded feedback!

In a nutshell:

  1. Meta-analyses have shown negative effects of feedback on student achievement in many cases
  2. This is if the feedback is, for example
    1. Seen as ‘critical’
    2. Linked to grades (that allow students to compare performance with peers)
    3. Vague
    4. An interruption


“3. Literature Review

As noted at the beginning of this paper, hundreds of articles have been written about feedback and its role in knowledge and skill acquisition. Many of these papers describe the results from experimental tests examining different features of feedback, and several represent important historical reviews (a few going back to the early 1900s, such as Kluger & DeNisi,1996; Kulhavy & Stock, 1989; and Mory, 2004). Despite the plethora of research on the topic, the specific mechanisms relating feedback to learning are still mostly murky, with very few (if any) general conclusions. Researchers who have tackled the tough task of performing meta-analyses on the feedback data use descriptors such as inconsistent, contradictory, and highly variable to describe the body of feedback findings (Azevedo & Bernard, 1995; Kluger & DeNisi). Ten years later those descriptors still apply.

Feedback has been widely cited as an important facilitator of learning and performance (Bandura, 1991; Bandura & Cervone, 1983; Fedor, 1991; Ilgen, Fisher, & Taylor, 1979), but quite a few studies have reported feedback as having either no effect or debilitating effects on learning (for examples of non facilitative effects of feedback on learning, see Bangert-Drowns etal., 1991; Kluger & DeNisi, 1996; and Mory, 2004). In fact, about one third of the total studies reviewed in two landmark meta-analyses (i.e., Bangert-Drowns et al.; Kluger & DeNisi) demonstrate negative effects of feedback on learning. For instance, feedback that is construed as critical or controlling (Baron, 1993) often thwarts efforts to improve performance (Fedor, Davis,Maslyn, & Mathieson, 2001). Other features of feedback that tend to impede learning include providing grades or overall scores indicating the student’s standing relative to peers and coupling such normative feedback with low levels of specificity (i.e., vagueness) (Butler, 1987; Kluger &DeNisi, 1998; McColskey & Leary, 1985; Wiliam, in press; Williams, 1997). In addition, interrupting a student who is actively engaged in problem solving with feedback from an external source has too has been shown to inhibit learning (Corno & Snow, 1986). In line with the definition in this review, feedback that has negative effects on learning is not formative.”

[My emphasis]


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