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How to Give Effective Feedback

Mohan is a family physician and a postgraduate associate dean working in the UK. He has a keen interest in self-regulated learning.

How to give Effective Feedback

How to give Effective Feedback


Effective Feedback helps to improve the poor performer to competence. It also helps in moving the competent to excellence.

Giving and Receiving Feedback

We have all, at many points in our life, given or received feedback. Feedback has become integral to educational processes, evaluatory exercises and social interactions. We all crave for positive feedback and may get upset by the negative. Effective feedback is essential for growth.

Good feedback is worth its weight in gold. Learners or employees who receive effective feedback show clear improvements in their performance. Feedback is not just reserved for improving the poor performer to competence. It is also essential to move the competent to excellence.

The term 'Effective Feedback' is used to indicate feedback that is valued and valuable.

While we all give feedback, perhaps few of us have reflected on the process itself:

  • Is the feedback we are giving effective?
  • Does it serve the purpose we intend it to?
  • Is it given in a way that the recipient benefits from it?
  • What are our strengths in giving feedback?
  • Are there ways of improving our feedback?

Can we distinguish between advice, evaluation and feedback?


Activity #1

A preliminary pause for reflection:

  • What activities are you involved in where your role involves giving feedback?
  • Do you know the key principles of giving feedback?
  • What are your strengths in giving feedback?
  • What are your areas of development?
  • How do you evaluate your feedback currently?

Scope of this Article

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In this article, we will look at the attributes of effective feedback and reflect on the skills required to give it. We will look at how, when and what feedback to give and to what end. We will discuss the optimum parameters of good feedback and how to hone our own skills in giving this.

Reflecting on feedback will help us to assimilate the principles and apply it in our daily life. whether it is giving feedback to our children, our friends, our learners or work colleagues - this will help us to think on our own strengths and development needs in giving feedback.

Giving effective feedback is not easy. It needs patience, preparation and participation. We will work step by step through the criteria for giving effective feedback. This way we will be able to think about the real difficulties in giving feedback and how to overcome them through preparation and practice.



What is not Feedback?

Feedback may be mistaken for advice, simple evaluation, praise or condemnation. While there is some overlap in these, none of these are the same as feedback.


"You were very good on stage!" - Praise

" Your easy manner, confident dialogue delivery and ability to ad-lib were all very good" - Feedback


"You were awful!" - Condemnation

" Your nervous movements, lack of projection, mumbling of dialogue - all will need work! - Feedback


" You got 70% in your test" - Evaluation

" You've got 70% in your test. The other 30% was missed mostly in questions around Geometry. Revising these would help." - Feedback


"You have to do better. work harder." - Advice

" Maybe we should allocate an hour each day for looking at Geometry. We can break the subject down and look for which areas you are already confident at and which may be giving you some trouble. And then we can work on those" - Feedback


What is Feedback?

There are many definitions of the word feedback. Each vary in various contexts.

The word is used in science and technology as the return of a portion of the output of a process or system to its input, in order to maintain performance or to control the system.

In the teaching context, we describe feedback as the return of information about the result of a process or activity; an evaluative response.

All biological systems are modulated, controlled and changed by the product, output or the response of their processes. This is integral to human body from simple hunger/satiety responses to hormone regulation. All life exists and self regulates due to well developed internal feedback mechanisms.

Feedback in integral to any student/teacher relationships. We all know how some feedback is valued, well received and used to improve performance. On the other hand some feedback may not hit home and may be poorly received or ignored.

Not giving feedback may either give a false sense of security or imply a disengaged teacher. Both Teacher and student may create assumptions of competence and lack of trust.

Good learners value feedback. However self -regulated they are, there will be blind spots to their development that need addressing. Feedback from someone who functions as a role-model, as a more experienced individual, can be very valuable.

Feedback is an essential roadmap to Excellence

Feedback is an essential roadmap to Excellence


Effective Feedback...

  • Promotes the learner journey to excellence and achievements
  • Encourages reflection, self regulation and ownership of learning
  • Increases self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation in a learner
  • Enhances the one to one relationship between Teacher and Learner
  • Enables the teacher to modify and realign teaching contents and method
  • Helps develop skills of peer review and self assessment

Why Give Feedback?

Of all the aspects of a teacher/ learner relationship, feedback has been proven to be the one exercise that consistently improves achievement and enhances the Teacher/Learner relationship.

Bellon et al1 have stated that 'academic feedback is more strongly and consistently related to achievement than any other teaching behaviour...this relationship is consistent regardless of grade, socioeconomic status, race, or school setting.'

In a retrospective study of students who dropped out or failed to complete, it was found that lack of feedback was one of main reasons2.

Effective Feedback increases self awareness, self regulation and self confidence in learners.

Phil Race3 in his paper on using feedback to help students learn, talks about the ripple effect of feedback. How the learner's wants and needs creates ripples of doing and digesting. Feedback then act as the bounce back effect that keeps the ripples going. without feedback the ripples will die away...

I have adapted this 'ripple' analogy to illustrate the aspects of learning and how feedback sustains the ripples in the image below.


1. Bellon, J.J., Bellon, E.C. & Blank, M.A. (1991) Teaching from a Research Knowledge Base: a Development and Renewal Process. Facsimile edition. Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA.

2. Yorke, M. (2002) Academic Failure: a Retrospective View from Non-Completeing Students. In: Failing Students in Higher Education (eds Peelo, M & Wareham, T). SRHE and Open University Press, Maindenhead.

3. Race, P. (2001) Using feedback to help students learn (PDF - 138KB). © The Higher Education Academy.

Ripple effect of Feedback on learning © Mohan Kumar

Ripple effect of Feedback on learning © Mohan Kumar


Activity #2

  • Think of times you have received feedback. Was it useful? Did it help to move you forward?
  • What were the aspects of the feedback that were helpful?
  • What do the terms 'positive' and 'negative' feedback mean to you?
  • Is Effective feedback always positive?


What is Learner Experience of feedback?

In UK the National Student Surveys (NSS) in 2007 and 2008 showed that among all the aspects of Teaching and learning, learners recorded lowest levels of satisfaction on their feedback.

This 'feedback on feedback' had a very high participation among students , showing just how much they value feedback on their performance.

The Students felt there were several improvements that could be made when it comes to assessment and feedback. The results were so overwhelming across the country that the National Union of Students started a feedback 'amnesty' campaign where students took charge of seeking timely and useful feedback to help their learning journey.

The key areas of feedback were around then need for detail, timeliness, positivity, focus and objectivity of feedback.

Effective Feedback Word Cloud

Effective Feedback Word Cloud


Pendleton's Rules of Feedback

Educational Psychologist David Pendleton established some rules of the feedback process:

1. Check the learner wants and is ready for feedback.

2. Let the learner give comments/background to the material that is being assessed.

3. The learner states what was done well.

4. The observer(s) state what was done well.

5. The learner states what could be improved.

6. The observer(s) state how it could be improved.

7. An action plan for improvement is made.

Attributes of Effective Feedback

Looking at the learner perspective, we can start developing themes on what makes a really effective feedback.

There is agreement between learners and their teachers that feedback needs to be for learning and not just of learning.


Feedback needs to be timely. Too long after an assessment or observed behaviour and the impact may be lost. The learner engagement and attention can wane after the initial activity the feedback is being given on. Some activities are designed so that feedback happens contemporaneously. However, rushing in to give critical feedback may also be equally ineffective and damaging. an expert teacher may spot many areas for development in a novice learner - capturing the areas but cascading the feedback in a steady and well planned way is an art. Consider the right timeframe and right frame of mind of the learner.

Positive focused:

Even the most confident person can wilt under negative feedback. Tempting though it may be to dive in right to the areas of improvement, it is always worth focusing on the positives first. Teaching circles talk about the 'feedback sandwich' - layering bits of criticism between two positive praise areas may help to limit damage to the learner with poor self confidence. Even a learner who demands that we get 'right to the problem' subconsciously would like to know the positives. Some learners may do well without knowing why or how. Focusing equally on positives helps the learner to bring these skills to conscious competence.

However, it is important that it doesn't get repetitive and patronising.

 Feedback Sandwich © Tom Fishburne

Feedback Sandwich © Tom Fishburne

Referenced to clear criteria:

The learner and the teacher should be clear on the criteria against which the feedback is being given. There needs to be accepted parameters of reference so that the feedback is objective and not pure subjective opinion. This helps the learner to set clear objectives for improvement. Vague, Judgemental feedback not referenced to criteria may be rejected. It may also cause a learner who is unable to set their own goals for improvement. Such feedback can also be subject to observer bias. A teacher who feels a learner is poor may only see poor behaviour and the teacher who is impressed by a learner may only recognise good behaviour. ( Halo effect).


In the case of individual feedback, we should take into account that different learners learn differently. Considering their individual learning styles and preferences helps to develop bespoke plans for improvement. An activist learner may learn better by 'doing' first and learning theory later while a theorist will feel the need to read first and act later. Good feedback will take into account these principles. A Teacher will need to have sufficient creativity to tweak the feedback to suit the learner.

Giving Effective Feedback

Giving Effective Feedback


Activity #3

Reflect on a feedback given or received:

  • Was it prompt?
  • Was it balanced on positives and development needs?
  • Was it clearly referenced to an agreed criteria?
  • Were you ready for giving/receiving it?
  • Was it constructive- suggesting plans for improvement?
  • Ddi it encourage self assessment?

Encourage Dialogue/ Self -assessment:

Good feedback should always encourage and develop self assessment in a learner. Even in the best one to one relationship, it is difficult and exhausting for both parties if all the feedback flows one way. Effective feedback should be a dialogue where the teacher and learner look at the criteria of what needs to be achieved, together. They can then reflect on where the learner is and where they should be .


Effective feedback needs to be honest - while it is important to focus on the positives and ensure that feedback doesn't crush the students spirit, it is equally important to be honest. When a learner is excellent, some teachers may not tell them this 'so that they don't get a big head'. The learner may not know of their own strengths.

Some teachers may not let the learner know how bad things are. They may give false reassurances in the interest of positivity. The student may then be unaware of their failings. An honest teacher can plan the delivery of positive and critical messages in a longer term relationship according to need. There will be a good balance between support and challenge.


Being constructive is not the same as positive focus although there is an overlap. Constructive feedback focuses on behaviours exhibited by the learner and suggests alternatives. It helps the learner set clear objectives for improvement and offers a further review against progress. Constructive feedback includes mutually agreed plans for improvement and is clear on the what, how and when.

 Effective Feedback © Mohan Kumar

Effective Feedback © Mohan Kumar

Manageable chunks:

In addition to the above principles it is wise not to overload the learner with feedback. Give them few clear take home messages that can be acted upon and reviewed. This will help to set achievable targets towards the goal.


Tempting though it may be to deliver the feedback as soon as we notice areas for improvement, it is worth spending some time preparing to give feedback. Consider the learner, their frame of mind, their level of development, their style of learning, confidence level and timeliness of the message. It is also important knowing how to summarise and highlight learning points. Preparation may not necessarily take long. There needs to be a balance between promptness and preparation.


In summary

Effective feedback is vital to help a person improve their performance. When done well it will encourage a learner to achieve excellence.

Skills of giving effective feedback can be developed by reflecting on the principles and processes of giving feedback.

Learners value feedback and want more of it.

Well prepared feedback will be referenced against agreed standards and criteria.

It will be timely, positive focused and constructive. It will provide clear targets and suggest alternative behaviours for improvement.

It will be done while maintaining good rapport and as a continuous process.

This will help create an engaged, self confident, self assessing, self motivated learner/employee.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful - Please do feedback below in the comments section.

Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2013

Effective Feedback has high support and high challenge

Effective Feedback has high support and high challenge

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Thank You!

Thank you for your time and hope you enjoyed this hub and found it informative.

Please leave your comments below as it is nice to know what you think. If you like this and think others will too, do share on Facebook, Google +, Pinterest and Twitter or other sites using the buttons below. Please don't forget to vote .

Do visit often and read the other hubs if you like the writing. There's plenty to entertain you!


Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2013



Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on July 04, 2013:

@torilynn- thank you for your visit and comments. I agree with you that Positive feedback is not mutually exclusive from honesty - honest feedback even when giving identified learning needs can be positively framed.

@Carolinamuscle- thank you for your visit and comment. I'm glad you liked the style.

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on July 04, 2013:

This is a well put together and informative hub.. I especially appreciate the points of how important honest feedback is .... I also liked the presentation style.

torrilynn on July 01, 2013:

@Docmo I honestly do agree with your points and I realized that positive feedback is great. sometimes , i think that honest feedback is great as well all depending on the tone of voice that you use and your word choice. overall, nice hub. Voted up.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on June 05, 2013:

@drbj- Yes, the sandwich model ( as in the cartoon) above is a recognised and time tested way of giving feedback. thank you very much.

@Nell- thank you very much. A lesson without feedback is a poor didactic washover. I'm glad the teacher was given 'feedback' on their lack of feedback.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on June 05, 2013:

@Genna- thank you very much. I'm pleased I was able to capture the various aspects of feedback- your feedback on this is as always, much appreciated!

@Sueswan.- absolutely-asking the learner about their own appraisal is a constructive and productive exercise.

@Eiddwen- Thank you so much. Much appreciated!

Nell Rose from England on June 04, 2013:

Hi, I totally agree that feedback is necessary, and the idea of sandwiching it into the comment is the best way to go. I remember one teacher who used to write tons of information on the board, but never talk to us, or tell us where we are going wrong or right, we caused such a fuss that the teacher was taken out of the class! great hub Doc, nell

drbj and sherry from south Florida on June 02, 2013:

I used to teach 'giving feedback' using the bologna sandwich model, Mohan - you know, give praise (the bologna), then the criticism, then more bologna. But I like your Criticism Model better. Thanks for reminding me.

Eiddwen from Wales on June 01, 2013:

A wonderful hub and thank you for sharing.


Sueswan on May 31, 2013:

Hi Doc,

When it comes to negative feedback I think the teacher should ask the student or learner to give examples of how they could have done better.

Voted up and sharing

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on May 30, 2013:

“Good feedback is worth its weight in gold.” Absolutely. Talking to the individual rather than “at them” without being patronizing or repetitive is so important. Your comment about how different learners learn differently is also “worth its weight in gold.” Many don’t realize this quintessential element in any student/teacher relationship. There are so many qualities that abound in this remarkable hub, I could comment for hours. One of the best I’ve ever read. Excellent, Doc!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 29, 2013:

@livingsta- thank you so much. I'm glad this was of some use.

@Ruby- thank you for dropping by. I'm glad you like this.

@ytsenoh- I 'm one of them! I thrive on feedback -constructive and positive but as I learnt to display some confidence and fearlessness in my teaching and medical roles most people assume I don't need feedback! Thank you for dropping by.

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on May 29, 2013:

@VickiW- yes, we are indeed fortunate in HP to have so much feedback and comments that helps validate all the work that goes in. Thank you so much for yours.

@Mary- thank you so much for your visit and comment. I'm glad you enjoyed this read- although this has an academic slant , thought the basic principles will be of interest to all.

@Pamela99- much appreciated. Your feedback giving skills are excellent!

Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on May 28, 2013:

Docmo, this is excellent information regarding the subject of feedback. Thank you and thumbs up. I especially liked (among many pointers you suggest) when you wrote, "Even the most confident person can wilt under negative feedback" because that is so true in working and personal life. The value of feedback clearly cannot be underestimated. You provided a really well-thought out hub on your topic, very well organized and I would believe would be effective. Thanks!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on May 28, 2013:

Informative and helpful in explaining the importance of feedback. We all love to get good feedback in a constructive manner. Thank you for sharing..

livingsta from United Kingdom on May 28, 2013:

This is an awesome hub on feedback and it explains clearly the importance of feedback. Thank you for sharing this with us Mohan. Voted up and sharing!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 27, 2013:

This is an excellent hub of feedback. I had always considered feedback as constructive criticism when it was given in a positive fahion. I like the way you expalined feedback in such detail, and I fell I have a better understanding of feedback after reading your hub. Up, useful and awesome.

Mary Craig from New York on May 27, 2013:

Another awesome hub! What better place to write about constructive feedback then on HP where we deal with feedback, in the form of comments, every day!

Your outlines are brilliant and your selection of special sections (the text boxes) prove to emphasize every point you make! Is this constructive feedback ;)

There are no suggestions for alternatives here because there are no alternatives. You've covered this subject brilliantly!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Vickiw on May 27, 2013:

Hi Docmo, we are indeed fortunate to be on HP, as it gives us innumerable opportunities for assessing the feedback we get, and also evaluating the feedback we give. I really enjoy the way you take us step by step through each of your Hubs, and always find a lot of interesting information in them. As you say, learning is a two-way street, and that is what helps to make it so exciting. Your phenomenal graphics and pictures help a lot too . . . Big congratulations on this Hub!

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