Assessment and Feedback

Day 2: Feedback and self-regulation in learning

People in a feedback conversation







The importance of self-regulation

‚ÄúThe construct of self‚Äźregulation refers to the degree to which students can regulate aspects of their thinking, motivation and behaviour during learning (Pintrich & Zusho,¬†2002).¬†‚Äú¬† Cited by Nicols & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p. 199

Research has found that clear goals and rich, accurate feedback to students provides them with motivation and direction to set goals for their learning and to improve.¬† This motivation is what underpins the exercise of “self-regulatory” learning.¬† Self-regulation of learning, incorporating reflection and meta-cognition, involves both the emotions and cognition, and is regarded as a desirable development in students and a sign of maturity as a learner.

For self-regulation to arise and be nurtured, the formative assessment process must include clear criteria, usually in the form of  high quality rubrics, and quality feedback aligned to the rubrics (which are in turn aligned to the learning outcomes for the unit as well as graduate outcomes for the program).

The assumption within a constructivist learning framework is that students can learn to be self-regulating, and that activities can be structured to help them learn this.  Such activities can include formative assessments.

Feedback and rubrics

While research shows that students will actively interpret feedback from teachers and other students in order to reach their goals (Pintrich, 1995; Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001, cited by Nicols & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p. 200), they may need support. Macfarlane-Dick proposed seven principles of good feedback practice to assist the development of self-regulation in students (see below).

Feedback plays a central role in an approach to education that believes students learn best by actively constructing their own learning, rather than learning being simply a process of acquisition of knowledge. (Nicols and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p.200).¬† Formative assessment must mirror this approach to teaching and learning.¬† A transmission approach ¬†to formative assessment (See web resource on Teaching Perspectives – click on “What are the 5 perspectives?”)¬†would mean students are passive recipients of instruction on how to improve their work, which is not conducive to deeper learning and self-regulation.¬† Nicols and Macfarlane-Dick point out that feedback messages can be complex and difficult to convey and interpret, and that “students require opportunities to construct actively an understanding of them (e.g. through discussion or dialogue) before they can be used to regulate performance” (ibid, p. 201)

Feedback for Learning is a previous Coffee Course topic that contains information and links to explore further.

The importance of rubrics for feedback

A 2013 literature review into the use of scoring rubrics in formative assessment by Panadero and Jonsson found that in combination with metacognitive activities such as self and peer assessment, rubrics for formative assessment can improve student learning. The authors asserted that the findings of the review suggested that rubrics provide transparency, thereby reducing student anxiety, and support student self-regulation; and that all of this together can improve student performance.  (2013, p. 140)

For an example of how rubrics can be used as an interactive learning tool that can scaffold student learning, take a look at this blog article on how one teacher explored using videos and weblinks in a rubric to provide explanations and further material to help students interpret what was required. Although this is about primary aged children, the idea is transferrable to higher education.

Of course, although rubrics are particularly useful for large or complex assessments, much formative assessment may be in the form of quick feedback activities such as in-class polls or quick checks with students using exit notes for example, where rubrics may not be relevant or necessary.

Discussion:¬† What are students’ expectations?

I know as a teacher I have often drawn a blank when I offered feedback to students on why they were not passing, or achieving a higher grade.¬† I taught in the area of human services and there is much complexity and nuance in teaching people how to work with other people!¬† The students wanted a simple, black and white answer – “where did I go wrong?” The answers were complex and I learned I needed to develop clear guidelines based on things like human rights and qualities such as empathy – hence rubrics and marking guides!

Have you ever had this experience of feeling inadequate to meet the student’s expectations of feedback, to explain to them exactly what is wrong with their work?¬† Is it more defined and less complex in the sciences and maths areas? Do you use rubrics to provide feedback to your students?

Seven principles for feedback to support learner self-regulation

These principles might be a useful framework when considering feedback.

  • Clarify what good performance is (ie through rubrics)
  • Facilitate self-assessment
  • Deliver high quality feedback information against criteria
  • Encourage teacher and peer dialogue
  • Encourage positive motivation and self-esteem
  • Provide opportunities to close the gap
  • Use feedback to improve teaching

(Nicols and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006, p. 203)

The authors stress that this list is not exhaustive and there is much more that teachers can do to encourage self-regulation in students, using formative assessment.  To read about the research supporting this set of points and the idea of self-regulation, and for more detail on each of the seven points, take a look at the article, which is linked in the references below.

Feeding back and feeding forward

Some useful websites that talk about feedback and “feed forward” are the pages on Feedback in Teaching Academy and JISC¬† Both of the resources emphasise the importance of the feedback being an active, two way communication process, rather than the student being a passive recipient of correction.¬† Both pages talk about ways to “feed forward” such as providing detailed rubrics, and the ability to submit draft work for interim feedback. Other forms of “feed forward”¬† might be “top tips” or “top hacks from previous students” or a Q & A resource.

Discussion:   Do you feed forward?

Share your thoughts on the idea of “feeding forward” and how you might go about this.


Nicol, David J. &¬† Macfarlane‚ÄźDick¬†Debra (2006)¬†“Formative assessment and self‚Äźregulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice,” Studies in Higher Education,¬†31:2,¬†199-218,¬†DOI:¬†10.1080/03075070600572090

Panadero, E. & Anders, J., 2013, “The use of scoring rubrics for formative assessment purposes revisited:¬† A review” in Educational Research Review, Vol 9, June 2013, pp. 129-144.¬†



One thought on “Day 2: Feedback and self-regulation in learning

  1. After each major assessment piece (i.e. ones that ‘count) I give positive and negative class feedback on aspects of their performances that are specific to the task and I also mention things for them to feed forward to their next task/s, and even things they can feed into tasks across their academic work, e.g. about literature searching. They seem to appreciate this and I’ve found they pay more attention to class feedback in general if it is given just before the marks are released so they can actually wonder a bit about if it applies to them.

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