Not Just Feedback… Mastery Oriented Feedback

Dr. Dean [fictitious], a faculty of English Composition, entered teaching her course rightly believing that feedback would be a critical part of student growth in their writing skill. When the students submitted their first summative essay task, therefore, she spent many hours going through their work, commenting on everything from grammar to style to content with hopes that her students would use this feedback to inform future writing tasks. Finally, she gave them a letter grade and returned the marked work to her learners. Dr. Dean, however, was dismayed as she watched her students flip through the pages of her detailed feedback to get to the grade at the back, scanning her notes briefly, then stuffing the paper into their bags or – in some cases – dropping it in the recycle bin on their way out.

The experience left Dr. Dean frustrated for the time spent and apparently wasted on providing feedback that many of her students didn’t use. She felt disinclined to spend her time providing it in the future, and the opportunity for feedback to effect change was thus lost.

  • Was Dr. Dean wrong in thinking that feedback was important?
  • If not, what could be done to ensure that students utilize feedback as intended?

There is bountiful evidence that feedback is a crucial component in the learning process, including in higher education. Yet, quality feedback that provides sufficient guidance requires a significant amount of instructor time and can be overwhelming for students. However, not all feedback is equally effective. It is worth recognizing the important differences that in how, when and why feedback can be delivered and to note those means with which the efficiency and effectiveness of feedback can be delivered.  

This blog series (“Mastery Series”) will address strategies for providing mastery-oriented feedback to students. In the series, we’ll touch on what mastery oriented feedback is, and then look at practical ways that it can be practiced.  Instructors will learn to use all of the multimedia options for providing quality feedback in a way that is cognizant of their own time restraints. 

The Culture-Changing Nature of Mastery-Oriented Feedback

As the opening story demonstrated, the effectiveness of feedback is not exclusively in the quality or accuracy of the feedback (surely, Dr. Dean’s comments were both high quality and accurate), but also in the motivation that students have for using it to effect change.

Evidence in the literature provides an explanation for common student dis-use of feedback. That is: even if we want students to use feedback to improve, the way that we provide it is contrary to that purpose. For example, instructors often use feedback as a way of justifying or explaining grades. Such summative (end-of-learning experience) feedback does not provide an opportunity for the kind of immediate or short-term application that would address deficits and reinforce strengths toward learning and skill-building.

We now know that feedback that is used for self-improvement tends to be that which is delivered in a timely fashion, during the learning process, without a grade attached, delivered in a timely and relevant fashion, with opportunity for learners to negotiate, collaborate, and interact with the feedback provider. In the field of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), the term we use to collectively reflect these qualities of feedback is “mastery-oriented.”

According to the UDL Guidelines, mastery-oriented feedback is “the type of feedback that guides learners toward mastery rather than a fixed notion of performance or compliance…. [it guides] learners toward successful long-term habits and learning practices.” The guidelines go on to list these qualities of mastery-oriented feedback:

  • encourages perseverance, focuses on the development of efficacy and self-awareness, and encourages the use of specific supports and strategies in the face of challenge
  • emphasizes effort, improvement, and achieving a standard rather than on relative performance
  • is frequent, timely, and specific
  • is substantive and informative rather than comparative or competitive
  • models how to incorporate evaluation, including identifying patterns of errors and wrong answers, into positive strategies for future success

Return to Dr. Dean: From Concept to Practice

Dr. Dean recognized that while she intended for her feedback to be used for learning, her students were receiving it as justification of their grade. After having this epiphany, she better understood her students’ behavior. If they agreed with the grade, based on the feedback, then what more was there to do with it? It would make sense to file it away or recycle it.

In other words, Dr. Dean realized that the barrier wasn’t first with her students’ attitudes, but in a miscommunication of intentions and opportunities. This realization empowered Dr. Dean to address the problem proactively! Drawing from backward design and UDL, Dr. Dean’s thought process was like this:

Identify the Goal:I want students to use feedback to improve their writing skills.
Identify the Barrier:The structure of feedback and assessment has not promoted mastery-orientation, but rather served as a proficiency measure, looking at students’ performance at one point in time. Feedback provided in that context isn’t likely to be used for improvement, except by the most intrinsically motivated students.
Identify the Nature of the Barrier: I think this is first an engagement-related barrier. Students don’t see value in the feedback beyond justification. They are not being supported to pursue mastery. They aren’t motivated to make changes based on the terminal feedback provided. But I also think that there may be a secondary barrier in representation. That is, students may find the text-based notation feedback provided to be difficult to understand or digest for their learning and improvement. I could do more to represent the ideas in a different way.

With a clear sense of what she wanted her students to do and what was preventing them from doing it, she then set to finding methods and/or materials that could be used to proactively remove those barriers and enable her learners to reach the goal of writing better papers and developing as motivated learners who use feedback for improvement.

As we continue in this series, we’ll survey some of the stategies Dr. Dean could have used to practically address these barriers without using an inordinate amount of her own time. Tune in!

Jump to: Mastery Series #2

Learn More:

As always, please reach out to us at with questions, ideas, or to request training or support.


Selected Bibliography (Mastery Series): 

Brick, B., & Holmes, J. (2008). Using screen capture software for student feedback: Towards a methodology.

Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., & Lam, J. (2011). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36(4), 395–407.

Denton, D. W. (2014). Using screen capture feedback to improve academic performance. TechTrends, 58(6), 51–56.

Fish, W., & Lumadue, R. (2010). A technologically based approach to providing quality feedback to students: A paradigm shift for the 21st century. Academic Leadership: The Online Journal, 8(1). Retrieved from

Flores, M. A., Simão, A. M. V., Barros, A., & Pereira, D. (2015). Perceptions of effectiveness, fairness and feedback of assessment methods: A study in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 40(9), 1523–1534.

Gibbs, G., & Simpson, C. (n.d.). Does your assessment support your students’ learning?

Hyland, K., & Hyland, F. (2006, August). Interpersonal aspects of response: Constructing and interpreting teacher written feedback.

Jones, N., Georghiades, P., & Gunson, J. (2012). Student feedback via screen capture digital video: Stimulating student’s modified action. Higher Education, 64(5), 593–607.

Li, J., & Luca, R. D. (2014). Review of assessment feedback. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 378–393.

Lizzio, A., & Wilson, K. (2008). Feedback on assessment: Students’ perceptions of quality and effectiveness. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(3), 263–275.

Mann, S., & Walsh, S. (2017). Reflective Practice in English Language Teaching : Research-Based Principles and Practices. Routledge.

Mathisen, P. (2012). Video feedback in higher education: A contribution to improving the quality of written feedback. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 7(02), 97–113.

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.

Orrell, J. (2006). Feedback on learning achievement: Rhetoric and reality. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(4), 441–456.

Pereira, D., Flores, M. A., Simão, A. M. V., & Barros, A. (2016). Effectiveness and relevance of feedback in Higher Education: A study of undergraduate students. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 49, 7–14.

Price, M., Handley, K., Millar, J., & O’Donovan, B. (2010). Feedback: All that effort, but what is the effect? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(3), 277–289.

Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153–189.

Stannard, R. (2008). A new direction in feedback. Retrieved July 13, 2018, from

Stannard, R., & Mann, S. (2018). Using screen capture feedback to establish social presence and increase student engagement: A genuine innovation in feedback. Cases on Audio-Visual Media in Language Education.

Sugita, Y. (2006). The impact of teachers’ comment types on students’ revision. ELT Journal, 60(1), 34–41.

Weaver, M. R. (2006). Do students value feedback? Student perceptions of tutors’ written responses. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 31(3), 379–394.

1 thought on “Not Just Feedback… Mastery Oriented Feedback”

  1. Dr. Moore – thank you for this post and for not mentioning growth mindset. I too often see Dweck’s growth mindset model represented as “the” practice for the checkpoint, “increase mastery-oriented feedback”. I’m glad you centered on the feedback’s use, and if it isn’t perceived as useful, it will not be used! I like the Stanford research on trust and feedback. CAST’s Top 5 Tips for Fostering Expert Learners (which feedback is in service to) includes resource links to Wise Feedback. Here are my suggestions, and my go-to “mastery oriented” material for helping educators reflect and generate their own feedback on their expertise on giving feedback! The research, Breaking the Cycle of Mistrust: Wise Interventions to Provide Critical Feedback Across the Racial Divide, two articles, Wise Critiques Help Students Succeed and How to Help Students Accept Constructive Criticism; and a youtube video, Wise Feedback. I had hyperlinked the aforementioned, but it didn’t save. Thanks!

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