Feedback | Collaborative Learning | Peer Learning

We frequently check in on the resources set out by the Education Endowment Foundation. 

The Big Picture section on their website pulls together evidence from projects which have been independently evaluated. This evidence focuses on 14 high priority issues for schools.  It provides developing evidence on how to improve the attainment and wider outcomes of children and young people. These themes were developed in collaboration with teachers and school leaders in response to demand for evidence around specific school challenges. Here are the summaries of the evidence.

As you will see: feedback has the top ranking and collaborative learning and peer learning are highly ranked too. All three of these are essential features of the work we promote at Children for Health. Here is a bit more detail on each with links to pages where you can find out more.

Providing Feedback 

Feedback is information given to the learner or teacher about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals or outcomes. It should aim towards (and be capable of producing) improvement in students’ learning. Feedback redirects or refocuses either the teacher’s or the learner’s actions to achieve a goal, by aligning effort and activity with an outcome. It can be about the output of the activity, the process of the activity, the student’s management of their learning or self-regulation, or them as individuals (which tends to be the least effective). This feedback can be verbal or written, or can be given through tests or via digital technology. It can come from a teacher or someone taking a teaching role, or from peers (see Peer tutoring).

How effective is it?

Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning. However, it also has a very high range of effects and some studies show that feedback can have negative effects and make things worse. It is therefore important to understand the potential benefits and the possible limitations of feedback as a teaching and learning approach. In general, research-based approaches that explicitly aim to provide feedback to learners, such as Bloom’s ‘mastery learning’, tend to have a positive impact. Feedback has effects across all age groups. Research in schools has focused particularly on its impact on English, mathematics and, to a lesser extent, science.

Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning.

Research evidence about feedback was part of the rationale for Assessment for Learning (AfL). One evaluation of AfL indicated an impact of half of a GCSE grade per student per subject is achievable, which would be in line with the wider evidence about feedback.

Other studies reporting lower impact indicate that it is challenging to improve the quality of feedback in the classroom. This has also been demonstrated in a recent EEF pilot study where teachers tried to apply the evidence on feedback through an action research approach.

Collaborative learning

Chidlren can work with adults to identify and solve problems

A collaborative (or cooperative) learning approach involves pupils working together on activities or learning tasks in a group small enough for everyone to participate on a collective task that has been clearly assigned. Pupils in the group may work on separate tasks contributing to a common overall outcome, or work together on a shared task.

Some collaborative learning approaches put mixed ability teams or groups to work in competition with each other in order to drive more effective collaboration. There is a very wide range of approaches to collaborative and cooperative learning involving different kinds of organisation and tasks. Peer tutoring can also be considered as a type of collaborative learning, but in the Toolkit it is reviewed as a separate topic.

How effective is it?

The impact of collaborative approaches on learning is consistently positive. However, the size of impact varies, so it is important to get the detail right. Effective collaborative learning requires much more than just sitting pupils together and asking them to work in a group; structured approaches with well-designed tasks lead to the greatest learning gains. There is some evidence that collaboration can be supported with competition between groups, but this is not always necessary, and can lead to learners focusing on the competition rather than the learning it aims to support. Approaches which promote talk and interaction between learners tend to result in the best gains.

Peer tutoring

Peer tutoring includes a range of approaches in which learners work in pairs or small groups to provide each other with explicit teaching support, such as:

  • cross-age tutoring, in which an older learner takes the tutoring role and is paired with a younger tutee or tutees;
  • peer assisted learning, which is a structured approach for mathematics and reading with sessions of 25 –35 minutes two or three times a week; and
  • reciprocal peer tutoring, in which learners alternate between the role of tutor and tutee.

The common characteristic is that learners take on responsibility for aspects of teaching and for evaluating their success.

Peer assessment involves the peer tutor providing feedback to the tutee relating to their performance and can take different forms, such as reinforcing learning or correcting misunderstandings.

How effective is it?

Overall, the introduction of peer tutoring approaches appears to have a positive impact on learning, with an average positive effect equivalent to approximately five additional months’ progress. Studies have identified benefits for both tutors and tutees, and for a wide range of age groups. Though all types of pupils appear to benefit from peer tutoring, there is some evidence that pupils who are low-attaining and those with special educational needs make the biggest gains.

Overall, the introduction of peer tutoring approaches appears to have a positive impact on learning

Peer tutoring appears to be particularly effective when pupils are provided with support to ensure that the quality of peer interaction is high: for example, questioning frames to use in tutoring sessions, and training and feedback for tutors. In cross-age peer tutoring some studies have found that a two-year age gap is beneficial and that intensive blocks of tutoring are more effective than longer programmes.

Peer tutoring appears to be more effective when the approach supplements or enhances normal teaching, rather than replaces it. This suggests that peer tutoring is most effectively used to consolidate learning, rather than to introduce new material.