Formative Exception Closing the Loop for Excellent Students/OG

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Formative Exception Closing the Loop for Excellent Students
Contributors Stylianos Hatzipanagos
Last modification May 15, 2017
Source Hatzipanagos (2014)[1]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain

The key focus of this pattern is on discussing the key features of formative assessment and the role that technologies can play in helping students that have performed well to replicate this performance across different contexts and situations.


Students who have performed well in assessment tasks often receive feedback which is synoptic or only summative (a mark). Frequently, the assumption (made by tutors, but also by institutional assessment systems) is that no systematic feedback is required when students perform above average. Because of this, the ‘closing the loop’ component of the assessment process does not take place. Consequently students who have done well in assessments may find it difficult to transfer good practice to different contexts/situations.


Summative vs. formative assessment, monitoring of tutor assessment practice, formative assessment considerations, feedback, learning technologies, lack of face to face context.


Formative assessment practices and the provision of feedback can be problematic in higher education, particularly in courses where the emphasis is on end-of-year assessments as the ‘closing the loop’ component of the assessment process very rarely takes place. For instance, students may not receive any feedback on exam performance, or feedback on assignments may not be systematic or developmental. The notion of continuous assessment that some distance learning institutions have endeavoured to put in place, however advanced, tends to be more of a periodic rather than of a continuous nature. Almost by default, most feedback is corrective, attempting to demonstrate to the students what they need to do to reduce the gap between achievement and desired performance. A possible drawback to providing generalised feedback is that it is not tailored to the needs of individual students unless it is customised by the tutor.

When there are opportunities for e-assessment, computer mediated communication can facilitate the provision of feedback and the dialogue between tutor and student. For example, the annotation of submitted assignments by the tutors, by using an editing or comment adding tool, can enhance the immediacy of written feedback. However, even when systematic feedback is provided through this channel, some tutors concentrate their efforts in providing feedback to students that failed or performed poorly and do not think it is necessary to provide comprehensive feedback to students who have performed well. Often feedback points to weaknesses and omissions rather than encouraging self regulation, and excellence is rewarded by praise or laconic confirmation that tasks have been accomplished.

In addition, there is quite often a prior conception that some praise such as comments of ‘well done’ or ‘excellent’ are self explicit and it is not necessary to explain to students what particular aspects of an assessment were excellent, i.e. a good summative mark ‘speaks for itself’. It is not made obvious to the students what was excellent about their work.


There are several aspects to the proposed solution:

– Some form of periodic assessment is necessary to ensure that monitoring progress and study support measures are in place for the students before they reach any end of assessment period examination. However, even periodic assessment may only play a summative role, if there is no opportunity for the students to revisit and use the feedback subsequently. The provision of systematic feedback can help, as students that have performed well have better chances of completing the ‘closing the loop’ component of the assessment process. The loop can be closed by identifying, negotiating and agreeing on actions to be taken by the student.

– An adaptive approach of providing feedback tailored to the needs of every student is required. This can be logistically difficult with big cohorts of students. However, one solution could be a concise template including feedback and developmental issues the students would need to consider, highlighting areas of excellence and how students can transfer good performance to other areas of achievement. The template could relatively easily be adapted or customised by the tutor for every student.

– Linking feedback to learning outcomes can point to the strengths of student work. Reflective activities can be embedded in the assessment cycle, e.g. by including ‘learn how to learn’ tasks that encourage students to think about the learning process and reflect on their performance.

– Formative assessment can enrich technology enhanced learning approaches by making the feedback central to all e-assessment activities and by directing the students to appropriate learning resources. Formative assessment can be facilitated by the use of tools that encourage dialogue about feedback and assessment, such as computer mediated communication and social software (e.g. blogs and wikis). In addition, student peer review can be enhanced by the use of collaborative computer mediated communication tools, such as discussion forums and social software, to share good practice.

– Tutors can engage in peer review or self evaluation using the Hattie and Timperley[2] framework to ensure that the feedback they provide leads to student self regulation.



The source for the pattern Formative Exception Closing the Loop for Excellent Students (Formative Exception Closing the Loop for Excellent Students) is the design narrative ‘A tutor’s journey’.[3]

Theoretical justification

The understanding of feedback as dialogue is fundamental to the process of ‘closing the loop’ in assessment[4]. Communication forms part of the mechanism by which the learner identifies and then bridges the gap between the current learning achievements and the goals set by the tutor[5]. Juwah et al.[6] have developed a conceptual model of formative assessment that represents a synthesis of current thinking by key researchers, it is based on the original model of self-regulated learning by Butler and Winne[7] and includes work by Sadler[8][4], Black and Wiliam[9], Torrence and Pryor[10] and Yorke[11]. The encouragement of dialogue around learning is viewed in this model as fundamental to effective feedback practices. Feedback is most effective if it moves students from task to processing and then from processing to self regulation[2]. However, praise does not necessarily lead to self regulated attitudes. Often it is assumed that a ‘pat on the back’ is sufficient whereas in the categorisation of Hattie and Timperley[2], this dialogue should lead from feedback about the task, to feedback about the processing of the task, to feedback about self regulation.

Related patterns

This pattern is related to Feedback on Feedback (Feedback on Feedback) and Try Once, Refine Once (Try Once, Refine Once).


  1. Hatzipanagos, S. (2014). Pattern: Formative Exception Closing the Loop for Excellent Students. In Mor, Y., Mellar, H., Warburton, S., & Winters, N. (Eds.). Practical design patterns for teaching and learning with technology (pp. 315-318). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.
  3. Hatzipanagos, S. (2014). Design Narrative: A Tutor's Journey. In Mor, Y., Mellar, H., Warburton, S., & Winters, N. (Eds.). Practical design patterns for teaching and learning with technology (pp. 269-273). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sadler, D. R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), 119–144.
  5. Hatzipanagos, S., & Warburton, S. (2009). Feedback as dialogue: exploring the links between formative and social software in distance learning. Learning, Media and Technology, 34(1), 45–59.
  6. Juwah, C., Macfarlane-Dick, D., Matthew, B., Nicol, D., Ross, D., & Smith, B. (2004). Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback. Retrieved December 23, 2012, from
  7. Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (1995). Feedback and self-regulated learning: a theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245–281.
  8. Sadler, D. R. (1983). Evaluation and the improvement of academic learning. Journal of Higher Education, 54(1), 60–79.
  9. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 5(1), 7–73.
  10. Torrence, H., & Pryor, J. (1998). Investigating formative assessment: Teaching, learning and assessment in the classroom. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.
  11. Yorke, M. (2003). Formative assessment in higher education: Moves towards theory and the enhancement of pedagogic practice. Higher Education, 45(4), 477–501.