Enhancing two-way feedback

York Learning

This project aimed to investigate how we could enable better two-way feedback with learners, drawing on digital tools that could be used in both remote and face-to-face teaching.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


When York Learning’s provision switched from face-to-face to digital during the pandemic, tutors found it challenging to provide good quality, meaningful feedback to learners on their written work and to encourage peer feedback. Our project aimed to apply and extend the digital tools and techniques tried by staff during this time e.g. digital marking, audio and video messages. We were inspired in part by the OTLA 7 project using Mote by Leeds City College. Our goal was to explore how tools could be used across different learner groups to enhance two-way feedback in hybrid and face-to-face learning situations. We also wanted to improve our own technological skills.

Three tutors, teaching different groups of learners in different locations, decided to use the teaching triangles approach, a form of situated learning (Lave and Wenger 1990), to explore and evaluate our practice.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme.

City of York Council’s York Learning Service is York’s chief community adult education provider. Our programmes include learning for leisure, training for personal development and workplace learning. We teach in over 60 venues across the city including libraries, children’s centres, schools and community centres as well as in council premises. We also offer classes online and through video-conferencing.

We offer Functional Skills English qualifications from Entry 1 up to and including Level 2 and GCSE English Language. We also offer stepping stone qualifications to support learners moving up to the next level of qualification. We support learners on our 16-18 study programme with their English requirements, many of whom have SEND and SEMH. We support learners with High Needs (16-25) on specialised study programmes within sub-contractor provision. We offer ESOL from pre-entry up to Level 1, where learners can take qualifications in certain elements like Reading or Speaking and Listening or full certificates. We work closely with Refugee Action York to support learners who have a very low level of English.

Our action research project involved three tutors, teaching four English courses with a combined total of 18 adult learners and one Employability course with a small group of 16 to19-year-olds. Four of the classes were mainly face-to-face with additional digital learning through our online platform (Google Classroom); the other was a flexi class for apprentices delivered through online learning (BKSB and Google Classroom) with an optional face-to-face weekly class.


September 2021 Formed a teaching triangle

Held initial meeting to explore ideas and decide individual focus

Planned our individual interventions

October 2021 Tried out tools and teaching techniques

Developed standardised writing feedback form

Held Triangle meeting to update each other and share learning

November 2021 Held Triangle meeting to update each other and share learning

Investigated and tried out additional digital tools: Flipgrid, Mote

Developed Activity Log for two-way feedback

December 2021 Researched ICT solutions for audio messaging

Held conversations with other providers

January 2022 Held Triangle meeting to update each other and share learning

Attempted to recruit for a second Triangle on the same topic [this did not succeed]

Developed teaching ideas for complex sentences

Used new visual feedback techniques

Asked other tutors about their methods for teaching complex sentences

February 2022 Continued to try out tools and teaching techniques
March 2022 Held Triangle meeting to update each other and share learning

Held observations to watch the research in action and give feedback to each other

Held learner reviews using RAG rating

Shared our learning at English team meeting

Future plans
April 2022 Adjust and improve our interventions
May 2022 Held Triangle meeting to update each other and share learning

Adjust and improve our interventions

June 2022 Adjust and improve our interventions
July 2022 Hold final Triangle meeting to evaluate our interventions across the project

Plan for sharing learning at cross-organisation meetings

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

As tutors, we have increased in confidence to try out teaching and assessment tools online and in the classroom. We have tried new methods of recording assessment and encouraging learners to feed back to each other e.g. using photographs, Screencastify, Flipgrid and voice recording apps.

We have also grown in confidence at adapting in-house tools specifically for our needs. Our  Their self-esteem has improved from seeing photo evidence documenting the soft skills they are usingtailored recording and reflection tools (Appendix 5, 6) have empowered learners to have choice and control over their learning, tracking their progress and understanding when more work needs to be done. As one tutor found, this was particularly helpful for her apprentice learners, who often panic when they realise they are running out of time to complete their English qualification as they reach the ‘end date’ for their apprenticeship. Another learner who has had experience of both versions of the ILP commented that the new version is much more “chattable.”

For learners on the Employability course their self-esteem has improved from seeing photo evidence documenting the soft skills they are using, and they are more confident when giving and receiving feedback (Appendix 7).

As the tutor has reflected about one learner:

This has really boosted confidence levels for her to actually have visual evidence of herself taking such an active part in the session.

Learners on English Functional Skills courses have had the opportunity to give honest feedback about how they feel about writing complex sentences, and this has shaped the tutor’s teaching approaches. It is empowering for learners to see a direct link between their views and the context of lessons (Appendix 4).

Overall, we have come to appreciate that our biggest strength as a learning provider is that we have small classes. Although our learners often have complex needs and backgrounds, we can tailor our approach to suit individual learners in many cases.

Organisational Development

Through this project we have strengthened the teaching triangle approach across the service. This has supported an overhaul of OTL processes, begun after York Learning participated in the Advanced Practitioners Project, whereby we combine traditional formal observations with unseen observations, teaching triangles, peer observation and learning walks.

Learners now see the review process as more meaningfulPart of our action research involved working with the ICT department to improve their understanding of the ICT needs of non-school teaching. It took time, but together we found a solution for voice-recording capability. In turn, as tutors we have understood that some requirements are going to be challenging in a local authority setting, e.g. lengthy procedures around privacy and data protection when installing apps, that wider organisations don’t always experience.

As result of this project, our Routes team has looked at its Individual Learning Plan (ILP) paperwork as a whole, to streamline it and make it more meaningful for learners and staff. The Routes tutor reflected: “I feel [the learners] see the review process as more meaningful and understand why it is so important to have feedback but also that they themselves are capable of facilitating this.” The English team is planning to roll out an improved version of its learner record (ILP) in September 2022 to allow for better two-way communication between tutors and learners. The tutor who worked on the new ILP reflected: “Having the time and opportunity to develop and discuss different approaches to giving learner feedback and how feedback is recorded, in an encouraging and ‘safe’ environment has been both enjoyable and rewarding.”

Learning from this project

Initially, this project was about providing better quality feedback for learners that would be effective in both online and face-to-face settings. We were in part inspired by Leeds City College’s project on feedback in remote delivery (OTLA 7). However, a theme soon emerged that face-to-face feedback was often better for some learners. Now that our teaching had partially returned to the classroom, we concluded that there was no reason to ‘hang on’ to digital tools where there were better options for our learners. As a result, we have combined digital and face-to-face approaches in a tailored way to suit different groups of learners and reflect their individual needs.

We have found it empowering to involve learners in our research, both for them and for us. Learners have provided us with really honest feedback, for example, detailing when they prefer face-to-face methods and where some tools haven’t worked for them (Appendix 7). For other learners, being able to communicate digitally with a tutor away from a session has boosted mental well-being.

Here are some of the ways that learners have influenced our thinking on this project:

One learner commented that they preferred sitting next to the tutor to look at the RAG rated skills feedback instead of just reading it on the screen; that way they could challenge ‘red’ ratings and take better note of the ‘green’ ratings (Appendix 6).

One tutor used a visual weather map to help learners reflect on their confidence in writing complex sentences. A learner with ADHD could not access the exercise as they found it difficult to work with weather as a metaphor for their learning (Appendix 3).

Another learner improved a reflection wheel by marking it in a different way; this has now been built into the task and the tool is a reflection clock instead! (Appendix 4)

On reflection we would have liked to be able to try our new approaches with a larger group of In a teaching triangle you choose what you want to investigatelearners in some cases, as some course numbers have been low. We would also have liked to have recruited a second teaching triangle to develop these ideas, but time constraints are perceived as a significant barrier by many tutors. This perception is reflected in other research on teacher peer-learning (albeit formal peer observation) by EEF which found that “teachers involved in the trial reported that they felt uncomfortable taking time out of teaching to complete observations” (EEF 2017).

Listening to learners’ direct feedback resulted in one tutor significantly changing her research topic halfway through the project and looking at teaching complex sentences (Appendix 8). The tutor commented: “I love the fact that in a teaching triangle you choose what you want to investigate, knowing your learners and their challenges.” As a result, findings are still emerging in this area and the approaches will continue to be tested in the 22-23 academic year.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    Our three tutors worked with diverse groups of learners, some 16-19 and some adults, with a wide variety of needs and goals. We discovered through our research that having small classes enables us to tailor our approach to individuals, including how we manage the digital tools we use and combine them with face-to-face feedback. Learners were able to tell us clearly what worked best for them.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    The collaboration between tutors working in different teams was very productive, leading to conversations and discoveries that would not otherwise have taken place. We also sought to collaborate beyond the teaching triangle by sharing our learning at team meetings and staff events. In this way, our project strengthened the teaching triangles approach across the whole service. Learners collaborated with us by sharing their feedback on the new tools and approaches we used. One learner actively improved one visual feedback method trialled (Appendix 4).

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression

    Our initial focus on providing feedback to learners widened out to encompass encouraging learners to give feedback to tutors too. We motivated learners by capturing photo evidence of ‘soft skills’ being used in practice; learners could then see how these related to the RAG rating of their skills (Appendix 6). This improved confidence in our 16-19 year old learners. We encouraged learners to record and reflect on their learning by improving two key tools – at the end of sessions and after writing tasks – to make them more effective tools for learners to track their own progress (Appendix 5). This was especially crucial for our apprentices.


This project was carried out (and report written) by Claire Wilton (Project Lead) and Helen Clarkson (Project Deputy) alongside their project team: Alison Thorne and Sharon Hutchinson.

With thanks to their mentor Helen Hewlett and Research Group Lead Bob Read, for their support.


Appendix 4: Weather reflection tool

Appendix 5: Sentence skills wheel / clock

Appendix 6: Samples from ILP used for two-way communication

Appendix 7: Soft Skills RAG rating tool

Appendix 8: Learner case studies


Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (2017) Teacher Observation: Evaluation Report. EEF, London. https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/projects-and-evaluation/projects/teacher-observation

Lave, J and Wenger, E (1990) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. https://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/psychology/developmental-psychology/situated-learning-legitimate-peripheral-participation?format=PB&isbn=9780521423748

Leeds City College on feedback in remote delivery (OTLA 7) https://ccpathways.co.uk/practitioner-research/otla-7/cluster-6/7-10b/