Reading In Action

Chapter Five: Practice and Feedback

This post contributed by Janine Hirtz, Chapter Five Facilitator.


What Kinds of Practice and Feedback Enhance Learning?


Chapter Five of How Learning Works examines the critical role that feedback plays in helping students learn.  The principle is that “Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback are critical to learning.

Students need sufficient practice that is focused on a specific goal or set of goals and that is at an appropriate level of challenge.

Feedback Targets:

  • What they are understanding or not understanding
  • Where they are performing well or where performance is not going very well
  • How they should direct subsequent efforts so they can improve



(p. 126, Figure 5.1 Cycle of Practice and Feedback)


Characteristics of  Effective Feedback: 

  • Focuses students on the key knowledge and skills you want them to learn
  • Is provided in a timely manner and with consistent frequency
  • Is linked to additional practice opportunities



Reading this chapter reminded me of an “aha” moment that has guided me in my own work and in my consultations with faculty for the last 14 years.  In 2004, in a B.Ed. course, the instructor gave us an assignment with a rubric attached.  She asked us to complete the assignment, then grade our own assignment using the attached rubric, including comments, and then hand it all in.  The “hand in your own marked rubric method” provides an opportunity for the instructor to comment on the discrepancies between the student’s judgement of their own work and the instructor’s judgment and this helps the student recalibrate.

Later in 2017, at an Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed (STHLE) conference, keynote speaker David Boud, Emeritus Professor from University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, talked about assessment.  He challenged us to teach “feedback enabled curriculum” where there are opportunities for feedback early and throughout a course, not just at the end. He shared strategies for creating an environment for “sustainable feedback”—feedback that builds students’ capacity to make judgements about their own learning.

As you read this chapter and reflect on your own teaching practice, or perhaps even, your own experiences as a student, consider the following:

What strategies have you found to be helpful for students to be able to judge their own learning?

Is the type of feedback outlined in this chapter practical in all courses, or for all class sizes?

What about practice? How do we build in practice that is goal-directed so students have an opportunity for improvement?

What do you think about letting students “redo” an assignment?

Post your comments below! To encourage participation, those who share a comment/post this week will have their name entered into the Chapter Five draw for a $25 CAD gift certificate for Chapters Indigo. Read the contest guidelines here. Good luck!

The Book Club chat on Chapter Five will take place on Friday, Oct 26th at 10 AM PST. Check out the schedule and how to connect with the group. We also invite you to say hello in the Comments section of our Intro post.


  1. Cloudsyl

    Hi Janine, I won’t be able to join in the sync session tomorrow but thought I’d respond to a few things in your summary! I appreciated you sharing your example of grading your own rubric as a student and then receiving instructor feedback. I wondered how much practice your instructor provided in how to apply a rubric and can only assume she had already established an environment of trust and collegiality? I know that many of the learners I’ve taught would have felt very intimidated to assess their own assignment without knowing what the instructor thought first. When you perceive the instructor as “expert” it’s tough to take such a risk. I’ve tried a few simpler self-assessment activities by sharing a worked example and then dividing students into pairs or trios, giving them a rubric and asking them to apply it and discuss their different perceptions of the activity. Then we get together in large group and share our thoughts (including critiquing the rubric!).
    I too wondered about the practicality of the extensive and personalized feedback and practice options that were recommended in this chapter. In many cases, instructors don’t have full control of which goals or learning outcomes they have to focus on – even if they believe that the course they are teaching is too broad or too detailed to allow time for any depth of learning for some of their students, they can’t always personalize the skills they focus on developing. Providing opportunities for practice is a great strategy and I use it as much as I can but the learners I deal with have so many professional demands (and often personal ones too), they have difficulty finding time to review my feedback and then go back and try again. The practical reality of cost and time makes some students reluctant to do more than the essential course assignments.

    David Boud’s idea of “feedback enabled curriculum” that you shared seems to be what many instructors do already – making it clear from the beginning that learning will be assessed in an ongoing way – not just during a few assignments and a final exam. The “”feedforward” approach to learning emphasizes that learning is a journey, not a point in time and that each student can (and is expected) to improve by reviewing, questioning and improving core knowledge and skills throughout the course, with the timely and thoughtful support of a knowledgeable instructor.

  2. english060girl

    Hi All. I am interested in ideas around feedback and practice. In my Canadian Lit. English course, my story is that there seems to be very little time to actually practice essay-writing skills, so each essay then becomes a fairly high stakes assignment. With 4 major essay assignments over the term and 4 genres of literature to cover, I am always struggling with providing low-stakes opportunities for students to practice, receive feedback and improve. Have others found ways to do this?

    I have been taking a huge amount of class time to meet individually with each student to provide feedback on thesis statements, I have made it a graded part of each essay assignment for them to attend a 30-minute writing coaching appointment, and I meet 1:1 after each assignment to provide extensive verbal feedback on their essay and I give specific examples of how my suggestions could be applied to their writing. To be honest, I don’t know how to tell how effective this is, but I think it is more effective than simply filling out the rubric (?)

    I have been wanting to move towards co-constructing a rubric or at least spending more time with familiarizing students with my rubric. My excuse again in not doing this is time pressures.

    Finally, I have been getting much more open-minded about students resubmitting essays that incorporate feedback that has been provided. I am seeing this more and more as an excellent learning opportunity. I’m curious to hear other’s perspectives on this.

    I’m not sure if I can make it to the meeting tomorrow, but thank you for the opportunity to read and reflect together.

  3. isabeaui

    When I’ve read this chapter in the past, I’ve read it from the instructor-undergrad or instructor-grad student perspective. This time, I read it from my ED perspective — ie, my students are the faculty members who come to our TLC.
    From that perspective, I think we’re doing ED all “wrong” when it comes to feedback.
    – we don’t have ongoing opportunities for giving an instructor feedback
    – our learners don’t get the benefit of scaffolded assignments
    – unless working in a 1-on-1 situation, there are no opportunities for timely, goal-directed feedback to faculty members

    …all this has made me think of the benefits of a longer-term ED program –like the certificate programs that are mandatory in Australia and in the UK. Where, from my understanding, a group of faculty members works together on an ongoing basis. Seems these would provide many more opportunities for feedback.

    I’ve been unhappy with the workshop approach we often take in ED. I think this chapter has left me feeling more dissatisfied.

  4. isabeaui

    Janine – I won’t be able to make it to the call tomorrow either. I’m sorry to miss yet another one…

  5. Jennifer Kirkey

    I will most likely not be able to call in this morning. I am at the dentist just before the call in time. I might be present for the last half hour or so, but my mouth will still be frozen so do not expect any talking.

    I teach physics. It is a problem solving course. We do scaffolded (to use the term from the previous chapter) assignments in class, often 2-3, that they hand in at the end of class and I get the marked work back to them the next class. I also use online quizzes where they get 10 chances to do the problems. There are similar problems on the tests and final exams.

    This type of feedback works for my world = community college with 36 students per class. I have the luck and honour to be teaching full time and similar courses. I am finding it a challenge to give feedback in my hybrid courses. That is one of the reasons I am participating in this online book club.

    I do not let students “redo” an assignment, but I am clear that if they do better on the final exam it will make a huge difference in their final grade. The joys of teaching first year physics is that the material builds, and I assess a small number of universal laws. Exact quote from my course outline, and in the feedback to the whole class after the midterm. “I do not care if you had trouble with projectile motion on this test. Show me you can do it on the final exam and it will significantly increase your grade. I do not care if you had trouble with this concept in week 4 as long as you can solve the problems in week 14. This topic will be on your final exam. ” I give them worked examples of the problems, and links to online resources.

  6. Jennifer Kirkey

    I neglected to mention earlier my “aha” moment from a few years back. Rubrics. I use them for my poster “how things work” assignment, my newspaper assignment “find a current newspaper article and write a paragraph on how it relates to the physics we are doing in this course”. It makes me think about what things are worth, and it helps them. I publish these rubrics in the course outline at the start of term. Not quite rubrics, but I also make explicit what “major errors in physics” will cause the problem to be marked 4/10 automatically. It is a stick as opposed to a carrot method but it helps point out what is important. What types of errors you ask? Having gravity acting up (6 out of 36 students last midterm), having friction cause things to speed up as opposed to slow down (4 out of 36 students last assignment), making up new laws of physics such as the Law of conservation of rotational kinetic energy (5 out of 36 on last year’s final exam.)

  7. Janine Hirtz

    Thanks for your comments Sylvia. I loved the pairing and sharing rubric activity, this also may help students in learning both to receive and give feedback; which is one of my talking points for this morning’s session.

  8. Janine Hirtz

    Thanks for your comments and many of the professors i have worked with over the years have been quite open to allowing students to re-submit assignments; I think this is an excellent learning opportunity as well. After all, the goal is to have them learn.

  9. Janine Hirtz

    Sorry you’re going to miss – we will miss you. I’ve had to miss too….

  10. Janine Hirtz

    Thanks for sharing how feedback works in your discipline Jennifer! I too agree that the rubric activity is very helpful for the instructor as well especially to identify what is critical and how important each criteria is. This is helpful for giving students a road map on which to focus their efforts.

  11. Janine Hirtz

    Good point Isabeau! This perspective of how we can use feedback and practice with the faculty we work with is an important consideration. We don’t really have a “formal” ED program in our CTL but if were to implement or consider one – this should be a part of it.

    I do think that sometimes we do this in our learning communities – although it is less formal, there is an opportunity to at least discuss what people are doing and what they could change or adjust to get better results.

  12. lmackay

    Interesting observation Isabeau. Within ED we seem to have a different model. I wonder, though, how to change that model? What would faculty need to have in place to see working with an ED as a place for feedback and improvement? In my experience, many faculty see it as a one-off experience. In addition, I think the information in the book about practice and how learners tend to practice areas they are already skilled at equally applies to faculty.

  13. Jennifer Kirkey

    Been there, done that. Empathy. It is so challenging to get new faculty, well faculty of any age and experience, to commit to a series of events — and it is so important. When you find the magic solution, talk to me please. I am tending more and more to e-portfolios, e-journals. There is so much work that shows that journaling is vital. Parker Palmer’s Courage to Teach. Maybe “just” a weekly or monthly meeting with coffee and cookies, including virtual meetings. I will stop rambling now.

  14. Cloudsyl

    I have watched the growing movement towards some type of continuous professional development in higher ed in UK (not as familiar with Australia’s) and wondered why so many institutions across Canada still seem to fall back on fast-paced, short intense workshops. Probably because it is so hard for instructors to focus on their own learning and PD during the intense periods of marking or prep during each semester? It’s tough to consistently participate – witness our inconsistent participation in this online book club!
    The researchers have known for a long time that occasional conferences and short workshops don’t have a lasting impact for most of us in terms of inspiring new practices. Jennifer’s thinking of ejournals and eportfolios is another approach that has had mixed success in places I’ve worked. I did hear about a new approach that CapU was trying this fall called Teaching Triangles which involves instructors observing and sharing ideas (see I’d be curious to hear how that’s going. And I participated in a BCcampus exploration of collaborative annotation of web sites and/or academic articles using Hypothesis ( – that worked well and was a persistent resource that was easy to set up ongoing conversations to explore new ideas in teaching and learning. Maybe that would be another way to keep a focus on learning?
    Happy Friday!

  15. isabeaui

    Oh my gosh–what a gift for your students to get your dedicated attention. As you point out, they may not be ready/able to full appreciate this and put things into action.

    YES to this: Finally, I have been getting much more open-minded about students resubmitting essays that incorporate feedback that has been provided. I am seeing this more and more as an excellent learning opportunity. I’m curious to hear other’s perspectives on this.

    I think this is an excellent approach and there are various ways to go about it…in particular, I’m thinking of having them re-submit with a short list of how they’ve incorporated the previous feedback.

  16. bccleva

    Thank you all for the great discussion here on the blog. There are many gems uncovered and you each have contributed a different view point on the topic of “Practice and Feedback”.

    it’s got me thinking about how we offer PD and our time challenges …how can we create the space for *our* own learning and reflection. What mode of learning will accommodate different schedules (people teach!) and the rhythms of our work and workloads (marking, student meetings etc.).

    Thanks for sharing! I’m happy to announce the winner of the Chapter Five draw is Isabeau! Congrats!

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