Formative Assessment

A Way to Increase Students’ Independence in Learning

When feedback originates with students, they can assess their current understanding and see what they need to do to improve.

July 6, 2020
Cavan Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The trigger for feedback is often when students complete a teacher-assigned task and then receive comments that ask them to make changes. Students typically revise their work for the sake of boosting their grade. Feedback in these cases has limited impact, since the teacher told students what to fix. In Visible Learning: Feedback, John Hattie and Shirley Clarke recognize that feedback is most valuable when it moves from student to teacher. High-impact feedback begins and ends with the student. It also takes off when it builds on student strengths: What are students close to mastering?

Feedback can be hard to receive when someone is telling you what to change. In a TEDx Talk, Sheila Heen explains that feedback can be difficult because we want to be accepted for who we are right now. According to Heen and Douglas Stone, three types of feedback include evaluation, coaching, and appreciation, and focusing on those can help teachers put students in the driver’s seat.


Evaluation tells a student where they stand in comparison with grade-level peers typically through a letter grade or score. To put students in charge of evaluation, they should be the first ones to score their work.

For example, in English class, students can use a standards-aligned checklist on writing an effective argument to self-assess. After they get their score, they select an area of interest (and strength) to improve upon—this combination increases student motivation. Next, students use a tool like this SMART Goals Handout to customize a goal based on their self-assessment. The SMART handout asks the student to consider who can help as they work toward their goal. When the student reaches out to the teacher for any support, talk focuses on the goal with the evaluation as evidence. Evaluation feedback in this way moves from student to teacher.


The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) establishes what a learner can do independently and what they can do with some support. Through self-evaluation and goal setting, this grows clearer as students try out their goals.

Coaching feedback is a reflective technique within the ZPD. The type of coaching that students need depends on their goals and the roadblocks they face. Many times, students may need coaching that does not directly reflect the content they’re learning. For example, the student who wants to improve the clarity of their writing may need coaching in time management strategies, not writing itself. This student knows that their writing is too lengthy in lab reports and leaves the teacher digging for the answer. The teacher might coach the student to put a time limit on their work. Try out answering each question in a lab in no more than 10 minutes.

The use of time limits will reveal roadblocks with which the student can then receive some more help. For example, if they still can’t get their point across in a concise way, they should note what happens in that time. They might be rereading without beginning the response. In this case, they need to reflect on their note-taking, reading skills, or activity level during the lab. Allow students to drive the coaching feedback in this way.

A tool to use during coaching is WOOP for Classrooms from the Character Lab. This will help students quickly retool their goal based on feedback.


Appreciation feedback helps students to develop a positive self-narrative. They first need to appreciate themselves. They should learn about the power of yet and the counternarrative. As they evaluate their work and set goals, students should practice adding yet to “can’t do” thoughts: “I am not a concise writer... yet.” Using the word yet feeds into the counternarrative of reframing the story they tell themselves. The inner voice needs practice in talking up the positives and reframing the negatives.

In Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel explain how learning something new changes the brain; thus, making mistakes is the pathway to advanced learning. The counternarrative moves from “I failed and am embarrassed” to “I learned something new and am stronger for it.”

All Feedback Begins and Ends With the Learner

In Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, William Burnett and David J. Evans mention a sign that hangs outside the Stanford Life Design Lab that reads, “You are here.” It’s where we all begin when seeking feedback. Students need to look around and verbalize where they are now and then ask themselves these three big questions posed by John Hattie: Where am I going? How am I getting there? Where next? These questions can be posted above your classroom board or on your digital course page for students to use daily.

Feedback begins and ends with the learner. If you teach students how to use these tools, feedback reframe takes place by having the student sit in the driver’s seat—they determine their current location, route, and destination, and where to go next.

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Filed Under

  • Formative Assessment
  • Teaching Strategies
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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