Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) present a framework of seven principles of good feedback practice and methods and techniques, which extend beyond written comments, to support each of the principles. Their work is built on the idea that feedback should strengthen the student's capacity to self-regulate their own performance and contribute to the student's ability to learn for the longer term.

Good feedback practice:

  1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards);
    Students can only achieve goals or outcomes, if the understand them, assume some ownership of them and can assess progress. If students perceive the aims of an assessment task differently to lecturers/tutors it can affect performance and their ability to use feed back.
  2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning;
    When well organized, self-assessment can lead to significant improvement in learning especially if integrated with staff feedback. Self and peer assessment processes help develop the skills to make judgements against standards
  3. delivers high quality information to students about their learning;
    (See the making comments into usable feedback pages)
  4. encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning;
    Discussion with the teacher helps students to develop understanding and correct misunderstandings and to get an immediate response to difficulties.
    Peer dialogue enhances learning as:
    • students who have just learned something are often able to explain it in a language and in a way that is more accessible that teachers' explanations
    • it exposes students to other perspectives on problems and alternative approaches and methods for addressing problems
    • students develop detachment of judgement (of the work from themselves) which they are able to transfer to assessment of their own work
    • it can encourage students to persist and
    • it is sometimes easier to accept critique from peers
  5. encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem;
    Where feedback praises effort, strategic behaviour and progress related to the performance in context. However the extent of praise must be consistent with the level of performance otherwise students may be confused by mixed messages.
  6. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance;
    Feedback is most useful when students have an opportunity to improve work by being able to resubmit the work or receiving feedback during the production process (e.g. comments on drafts) or apply the feedback to a subsequent piece of work. Also student can benefit from being given help to develop strategies to use feedback
  7. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching.
    Frequent low stakes assessment (e.g. diagnostic testing) can provide feedback to students on their learning and information to teachers about students' level of understanding and skill, so that teaching can be adjusted to help students close the gap. (See evaluating teaching pages )

(extracted from Nicol and Macfarlane, 2006, pp.207-214)

Many of the good feedback practices identified by Nicol and Macfarlane to help enact these principles are suggestions to integrate feedback as part of usual teaching activities rather than stand alone events and to actively engage students in reflection on their own learning. Most extend beyond providing written comments on student work, but still rely on usable comments as a major input into feedback activities.