A simple feedback strategy centred on a pedagogy of care

Lucy Gill-Simmen shares the template she’s designed to give meaningful feedback and opportunities for development for undergraduate and postgraduate students

Lucy Gill-Simmen's avatar
Royal Holloway, University of London
26 Jun 2023
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How to give meaningful feedback to university students

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In the realm of higher education, providing students with clean and constructive feedback is key to their growth and development. In this short article, I propose the use of “clean” feedback to align with the principles of a pedagogy of care, particularly if we can deliver it in a supportive and empathetic manner. “Clean” feedback, which emerged from the coaching discipline, refers to feedback that is specific, objective and focused on the behaviour or performance being evaluated rather than the educators making personal judgements or assumptions about the piece of work.

A pedagogy of care is an educational approach that emphasises empathy, compassion and holistic support for students. It is a philosophy of teaching and learning that recognises the importance of addressing the emotional, social and psychological well-being of learners, in addition to their academic development. At its core, a pedagogy of care acknowledges that students are not just passive recipients of knowledge but complex individuals who have diverse needs and backgrounds. It aims to create a nurturing and inclusive learning environment that values each student as an individual.

The feedback problem

Colleagues often spend a lot of time writing copious amounts of feedback that they hope will be useful to students. Then the National Student Survey scores come in and, yet again, satisfaction with assessment and feedback is low. This frustrates staff. At the same time students complain that they struggle to understand their lecturers’ feedback or they do not take the time to read it, and the majority do not appear to act on it. As such, colleagues become even more frustrated by the potential lack of usefulness of the feedback they’ve so diligently provided.

Feedback as a pedagogy of care 

The main components of a pedagogy of care include: modelling, dialogue, practice and confirmation. Providing feedback to students can be an integral part of, or indeed the whole, a pedagogy of care. Feedback, when given with evidence-based understanding, and with empathy and a focus on the individual student’s growth, aligns with the principles of a pedagogy of care. 

How to provide meaningful feedback

Based on what I was hearing from students, my understanding was that feedback in its current form was inconsistent, unhelpful and often didn’t make sense. I was therefore looking for a way to provide a solution, both for colleagues and for students. I was seeking a method of feedback provision that could save colleagues time while helping students to develop their feedback literacy.

The “clean” feedback approach meets the criteria of a pedagogy of care because it employs a revised feedback “sandwich” that ties together the objective elements of assessment criteria with the seemingly subjective language of feedback as experienced by learners. It also aims to promote feedback literacy by showing the recipient what the marker sees/hears/reads when assessing the work and what they take that to mean. This then allows the recipient to think more deeply about their next piece of work.

This seemed to make sense to me because I was looking for a feedback literacy strategy that would allow for a shared understanding between staff and student and shared expectations when it comes to receiving the feedback.

I was also very conscious of learning assessment expert David Carless’ view that less can be more in terms of feedback, and the most important aspect of feedback is what students do with any inputs that they receive. With this in mind, I proposed standardising feedback across the whole of the School of Business and Management using a standard approach for every piece of assessment at the undergraduate and postgraduate level.

The original structure of the “clean” model uses the following feedback framework:

  • Something that you said or did that worked well for me was… 
    • I interpret this as meaning…  
  • Something that you said or did that didn’t work so well for me was… 
    • I interpret this as meaning… 
  • Something I would have preferred you to say or do was… 
    • I would have interpreted this as meaning… 

Adapting and simplifying this approach, I created a standard template for colleagues to paste into Turnitin. Focusing on what was seen/heard/read (this must relate to the marking criteria in the rubric) and with provision of evidence, the sandwich was applied with a focus on the final part, which I turned into a developmental task.

The feedback template

  1. The best features of this work are: (here list up to three elements of the task they did well; if there are none, leave it blank). Evidence: (very briefly explain evidence for points above, either as bullets or a short summary)
  2. The areas of this work requiring attention are: (here list up to three brief points on what they did in the task that they should avoid in future). Evidence: (very briefly explain evidence for points above, either as bullets or a short summary)
  3. Steps to be taken to improve future work are: (insert up to three developmental tasks here)

Through this method we are able to develop student resilience in response to feedback and to create opportunities for students to respond to “negative” feedback through a developmental opportunity and potentially the next part of an assessment strategy.

We also encouraged students to create a feedback portfolio so that they can track their feedback over time and self-identify areas for enhancement and the focus of future work.

Lucy Gill-Simmen is the vice-dean for education and student experience at the School of Business and Management at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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