Enabling Uptake of Instructor Feedback Through Feedback Literacy

Even when instructors provide detailed and actionable feedback on students’ work, they might never see a marked improvement based on their feedback. Instructors may thereafter limit their feedback, or provide a grade without an explanation because their experiences have shown them that providing feedback can be an exercise in futility.

When instructors promote students’ feedback literacy, they encourage the uptake of feedback. Feedback moves beyond something that is done to learners to something that learners must act upon, for example, by making some type of change (Carless et al., 2011). In other words, feedback is done with or done by students. Instructors and students together begin to close the assessment loop, and students become self-regulated learners.

For the purposes of this Teaching Tip, feedback is defined as, “a process in which learners make sense of information about their performance and use it to enhance the quality of their work or learning strategies” (Feedback for Learning, n.d.). As a reminder of good feedback practice in general, Nichol and McFarlane-Dick's (2006) synthesis of the research literature is relevant. Good feedback practice does the following: 

1 Helps clarify what good performance is

2 Facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning

3 Delivers high-quality information to students about their learning

4 Encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning 

5 Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem 

6 Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance

7 Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching

Regarding this teaching tip, Numbers 2, 4, and 6 are most applicable. For more information about feedback in general, see the CTE Teaching Tip: Receiving and Giving Effective Feedback.

Feedback Literacy

Carless and Boud (2018) define feedback literacy as, “the understandings, capacities and dispositions needed to make sense of information and use it to enhance work or learning strategies” (p. 1316).As opposed to typical one-way feedback, in which instructors provide feedback and students might read it, feedback literacy is promoted by, “dialogic processes and activities which can support and inform the student on the current task, whilst also developing the ability to self-regulate performance on future tasks” (Carless et al., 2011).

In other words, feedback literacy is promoted by instructor-learner dialogue that is both present- and future-oriented. Thus, it is important to design assessment tasks to facilitate student engagement over time, in which feedback from varied sources is generated and used to enhance performance on multiple stages of assignments (Carless et al., 2011). In this way, students who develop feedback literacy are more likely to be self-regulated learners beyond the classroom. For example, in the workplace, a self-regulated learner is likely to review and revise their own work. ­­

Strategies to Promote Feedback Literacy

Facilitate the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning

In Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006):

Instructor strategies:

  • Provide students with opportunities to evaluate and provide feedback on each other’s work. Such peer processes help develop the skills needed to make objective judgements against standards, skills which are transferred when students turn to producing and regulating their own work (Boud et al., 1999; Gibbs, 1999).
  • Create frequent opportunities for reflection by students during their study. See CTE Teaching Tip: Critical Reflection.

Strategies for students:

  • Request the kinds of feedback they would like when they hand in work.
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses in their own work in relation to criteria or standards before handing it in for feedback.
  • Reflect on their achievements and select work to compile a portfolio. See CTE Teaching Tip: ePortfolios Explained: Theory and Practice.

Encourage dialogue around learning

According to Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006),

“Feedback as dialogue means that the student not only receives initial feedback information, but also has the opportunity to engage the teacher in discussion about that feedback... Discussions with the teacher help students to develop their understanding of expectations and standards, to check out and correct misunderstandings and to get an immediate response to difficulties.”

Learner-instructor dialogue can be difficult to manage even in ideal situations, and it can be still more challenging in large classes. Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) suggest the following strategies for large classes, which often take advantage of peer feedback:

Strategies for Students

  • Read their feedback and discuss it with their peers.
  • Suggest strategies to improve performance next time.
  • Find one or two examples of comments that they found useful and explain how they helped.
  • Give each other descriptive feedback on their work in relation to criteria before submission.
  • Discuss criteria before a group project begins.

Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance

In Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006):

  • Have students reflect before a task on achievement milestones and reflect back on progress and forward to the next stage of action.
  • Support students while engaged in the act of production of a piece of work—this is present-oriented feedback, i.e., provide feedback on works-in-progress.
  • Provide opportunities to repeat the same task-performance-feedback cycle, e.g., by allowing resubmission—this is future-oriented feedback. Note: While resubmission may not always be possible, consider what opportunities exist for this strategy.
  • Build feedback into the task.
  • Provide feedback at sub-task level.
  • Introduce two-stage assignments where feedback on stage one helps improve stage two.
  • Model the strategies that you, the instructor, would use to close a performance gap in class.

Common Missteps

When enabling uptake of feedback, avoid the following common missteps from Esterhazy (2019):

  • Too little time and space planned in the course design stage, which keeps students from making meaning of the received feedback comments (i.e., inhibits their move along the meaning-making trajectory). See CTE Teaching Tip: Course Design: Questions to Consider.
  • Unclear distributions of responsibilities with regard to feedback encounters that leave students uncertain of what is expected of them and makes them thereby likely to remain passive. (Note: Esterhazy (2019) describes feedback encounters as, “students, teachers, and knowledge resources in the environment come together and ‘do feedback.’”)
  • Teacher reference to specific concepts or tools from the knowledge domain (for example, “assessment criteria, standards or academic writing or scientific concepts” and “feedback comments from teachers or peers” [Esterhazy, 2019]) during a feedback encounter that the students are unfamiliar with, while the teacher might not realize these tools or concepts as domain-specific and therefore does not make the conventions around them more explicit.
  • Unavailability of knowledge resources that are necessary for students to understand and make use of the provided comments during a feedback encounter.


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.


Carless, D. & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315-1325. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354

David Carless, Diane Salter, Min Yang & Joy Lam (2011) Developing sustainable feedback practices, Studies in Higher Education, 36:4, 395-407, DOI: 10.1080/03075071003642449 https://doi.org/10.1080/03075071003642449

Esterhazy, R. (2019). Re-conceptualizing feedback through a sociocultural lens. In The impact of feedback in higher education (pp. 67-82). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Feedback for Learning: Closing the Assessment Loop. (n.d.) Definition. https://feedbackforlearning.org/framework-of-effective-feedback/definition/

Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education, 31(2), 199-218. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070600572090


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teachingtipsThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Receiving and giving effective feedback. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.