Immediate Feedback Matters. This Is Why.

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Join our Teachers for Research & Feedback community to receive (paid!) opportunities to contribute your instructional expertise to educational research studies, and to help pilot new ASSISTments features. This blog post is part of our series on Evidence-Based Instructional Practices that sheds light on teaching practices grounded in learning science. You can find all posts in the series here.

Have you ever caught yourself wondering how much difference it would make for your students if you had more time to give thoughtful feedback? Chances are that you have. And you are not alone. Educators strive to respond to students’ work in a timely manner, but that is not always possible given busy school days and the sheer amount of work that students complete.

The evidence behind immediate feedback

Teachers know the value of providing students feedback, and research also proves that it truly matters. A team at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were early pioneers in digital feedback. As early as 1995, they were able to show that their math software (known as ‘Cognitive Tutor’), a program that was built to provide immediate feedback to students, has a positive effect on performance. Students using the software performed higher in standardized tests and other performance-based evaluations than their peers. 

When educators are able to inform their instruction based on data collected from technology, students learn more. In 2013, a team of researchers at the Ohio State University equipped a randomized sample of Algebra I students with graphing calculators. The treatment group’s calculators were networked devices, i.e. they were connected to teacher computers, whereas the control group’s calculators did not have that capability. Additionally, educators in the treatment group were trained to adapt their instruction based on data from the networked devices. The study showed that, when educators are able to respond to student needs real-time based on data, student performance significantly improves.

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Classroom applications for immediate feedback

Andrew Burnett, a 7th grade math teacher at FA Day Middle School in Newton MA, has been using ASSISTments with his students for many years. He has written widely on his use of immediate feedback, how the timing of feedback is crucial, and how he incorporates discussion and debate into the learning process. 

Andrew builds immediate feedback into his instruction via:

  • Individual classwork - students complete prompts independently and discuss with a partner or as a class before receiving the correct response.
  • Group classwork - leveraging the Thinking Classroom model, students are assigned random groups in which they work to complete a problem. The groups constantly change and are assigned in real-time, which improves group engagement.
  • Homework - homework in Andrew’s class is called a Learning Opportunity, where the feedback and hints delivered as students complete assignments in ASSISTments coach them along the way in their independent practice.
  • Assessments - students receive video feedback where Andrew records himself describing the areas of strength and biggest challenges in the assignments. He sticks to a strict schedule for when students receive feedback, so expectations in class are clear.

Andrew primarily uses ASSISTments to deliver feedback on homework assignments. The immediate feedback that students receive on the correctness of their responses and that Andrew receives as a teacher in the form of the Assignment Report have made the tool invaluable for him. He still requires that students show their work on paper (check out this report on the use of paper and pencil in math) but when they are done with each problem, they enter their answers into ASSISTments and find out immediately whether they answered correctly. He coaches the students to understand that if they answer a problem incorrectly, it’s an opportunity to rework the problem and try answering again. 

One unique feature for delivering feedback through ASSISTments is called TeacherASSIST. Andrew uses it to embed help videos that he has created and to time the videos to appear at crucial moments for student learning. The videos are automatically delivered to students when they are struggling with a problem. Andrew has it set up so that when students have unsuccessfully attempted a problem three times, they receive his help video. In this way, not only do students receive immediate feedback on the correctness of their answers, but they also receive immediate help to support their learning when completing assignments independently. The next day in class, Andrew uses the Assignment Report to drive his instruction and review based on the data in the report.

How ASSISTments supports this evidence-based practice

Informed by the evidence behind student feedback, the ASSISTments platform was built to provide students with immediate feedback and empower educators to adjust their instruction based on data. A two year independent efficacy study completed in 2016 by SRI International  tested the effect of ASSISTments on mathematics learning. The study showed that students in schools that used ASSISTments as an online homework intervention scored significantly higher in an end-of-year standardized assessment compared with a control group that continued with existing homework practices. Teachers using ASSISTments adjusted their instructional methods and lower-performing students experienced an even greater benefit, narrowing the achievement gap. We believe this is due to the combination of immediate feedback, and ensuring the teacher was always driving the learning process every step of the way.

The power of ASSISTments lies in the control it gives educators. Many intelligent tutoring systems leave teachers out of the learning equation. With ASSISTments, teachers remain in the driver’s seat of their instruction. They can tailor the feedback students receive on their homework answers, and use data insights like common wrong answers, the number of times students attempt to solve a problem, as well as many other learning parameters, to inform instruction. Teachers control content, pace, and method. This way they can respond to student needs through the platform as THEY see fit.  

Would you like to support evidence-based practice by contributing to learning science research? We invite all ASSISTments teachers to join our Teachers for Research and Feedback community to receive the monthly newsletter with all future opportunities.


Pape, S. J., Irving, K. E., Owens, D. T., Boscardin, C. K., Sanaland, V. A., Abrahamson, L. A., Kayaf, S., Shing, H. S., Silver, D. (2012). Classroom connectivity in Algebra I classrooms: Results of a randomized control trial. Effective Education, 2(4), 1–21.

Ritter, S., Anderson, J. R., Koedinger, K. R., & Corbett, A. (2007). Cognitive tutor: Applied research in mathematics education. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 14(2), 249–255.

Roschelle, J., Feng, M., Murphy, R. F., & Mason, C. A. (2016). Online Mathematics Homework Increases Student Achievement. AERA Open.

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