Critical feedback hurts. We either get angry or defensive (remember that time when you were fuming for days over those ‘stupid’ comments that anonymous reviewer gave you?). Or, worse, we start doubting ourselves and start to question our self-worth.

There is something raw and emotional about being told that our work is not perfect, especially if you care about it. And it’s worse for students, as they are yet to learn to value feedback and see it as a ‘friend’, rather than a ‘hopes crusher’.

Shifting student’s perception of feedback from ‘evil’ to ‘useful’ and helping them to recognise when they are getting feedback is exactly what ‘feedback literacy’ is trying to achieve. In other words, the aim of feedback literacy is turn ‘feedback deniers’ or ‘feedback dodgers’ into keen ‘feedback recipients’ and ‘feedback seekers’.

Sounds good, but how?

While there are no magic bullets, these 3 practical activities can help.

Step 1 (the easiest): Assessment dialogues

(Carless, 2006)

Be explicit with your students about the ‘rules of the game’. Discuss rubrics with your students. Make sure they understand what’s expected of them. Not just at assessment time. Start early, let them know what you expect with online and face-to-face participation and in group activities. Spell out what ‘success in this unit’ looks like.

Step 2: Give students an opportunity to give feedback

Studies show that students often gain more from GIVING than receiving feedback (Nicol, et al, 2014). Get students to analyse sample assessments, apply criteria and suggest how the work could be improved (Hendry et al., 2011). This will work wonders for their feedback literacy.

Step 3: Get students to come up with ‘an action plan’

Ask students to choose 2-3 key comments from their overall feedback and write down

(i) what actions they will take in the future and

(ii) how they’ll know that they’ve achieved their goal. Ask them to save these action plans somewhere safe (e.g. a cloud) and revisit them after a semester.

The Learning Innovation Hub recently conducted a survey with students on the preferred types of messages they’d like to receive in iLearn (we’re trialling a new messaging feature). We’ll share the full report soon, but some key findings relevant here revealed that students really appreciate it when educators take the time to provide personal feedback for improvement. The wording that students preferred most to encourage them to take action was

you may not be reaching your full potential in this unit, here are some extra resources that may help you.

The survey also showed that some of the most helpful information students would like to receive are:

  • the most common mistakes made in a particular assessment
  • model answers to assessment questions

These two examples can go a long way to set the expectations within a unit, and improve students’ feedback literacy.

Do you have any other ideas for helping students improve their assessment and feedback literacies? Share them below!


Carless, D. (2006) ‘Differing perceptions in the feedback process’, Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 219-233

Hendry, G. D., Bromberger, N., & Armstrong, S. (2011). Constructive guidance and feedback for learning: The usefulness of exemplars, marking sheets and different types of feedback in a first year law subject. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(1), 1-11. doi:10.1080/02602930903128904

Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C. (2014). Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: a peer review perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(1), 102–122.

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught on different courses, ranging from 1st year to PhD students. I now work in Learning and Teaching, which I love. I have 2 young kids and a dog, and I love meeting other Mq people, so give me a shout if you'd like to talk 'learning and teaching' or would like to brainstorm together.

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