Use of Questions in Dialogic Feedback for Enhanced Learning and Thinking

Jessie TENG, Norhayati ISMAIL, and Daron LOO
Centre for English Language Communication (CELC)

Jessie, Norhayati and Daron share on the use of questions in tutor-student conferences to promote dialogic feedback and the benefits that their students have reported.

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Feedback in higher education is critical for promoting learning (Henderson et al., 2019). In particular, providing effective formative feedback is important to the teaching and learning process as it deepens learning, develops critical thinking, and fosters students’ ownership of their work. A common feature of modules offered by the Centre for English Language Communication (CELC) is the tutor-student conference, where a dialogic approach involving the use of questions to facilitate thinking and learning is often employed. According to Carless (2013), dialogic feedback is defined as the “interactive exchanges in which interpretations are shared, meanings negotiated and expectations clarified” (p. 90), leading to students taking an active role in reflecting and responding to feedback posed to them by their tutors (Carless, 2016).

Dialogic Feedback Approach in Three Steps

Once an assignment is received, the feedback process involving three steps is initiated:

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Benefits and Challenges

Aside from improving students’ work, the dialogic feedback approach has other benefits. Through online surveys and semi-structured interviews, some students have reported that the use of questions in the tutor-student conference encouraged them to think more critically. They value the process of working out the answers through the tutor’s guidance, and prefer this feedback style, as opposed to the tutor simply providing the answers. In addition, as this approach enables them to understand the rationale behind the answers, the students also noted that they are better able to remember the lessons learnt, which is key towards building their capacity to be reflective learners. Finally, having students prepare for the conferences also ensures a more effective management of tutors’ resources (time and energy) and fulfillment of students’ learning goals.

Nevertheless, one disadvantage of such an approach is that it can be time consuming. Hence, it is necessary to optimise the conference time and focus the conversation on a few key areas. Reflecting on our experience with dialogic feedback has led us to identify three essential strategies/dispositions for the dialogic feedback conference session to be more effective:

  • ensure that students understand the purpose and process of the session in order to manage their expectations and so that they can be prepared for the session to get the most out of it;
  • adopt a student-centred approach by letting students lead and decide on the direction of the discussion;
  • remember that the goal of the session is to help students find answers for themselves, so strive to answer a question with questions, particularly open-ended questions in order to encourage students to think, with a focus on an assignment’s crucial aspects.
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In situations where it is not possible to give students comments prior to the conference, the discussion could begin with a general question (e.g., “What challenges did you face in completing this assignment?”) before the tutor directs the discussion by highlighting the areas to focus the conversation on. Regardless of who leads the conversation, the dialogue should consist of questions and answers provided by both the student and tutor, for such dialogic feedback is an effective way to facilitate and promote student thinking and learning.

In adopting the above steps and strategies for effective dialogic feedback, we strive to provide our students with feedback that will facilitate their critical thinking and enhance their learning.

Jessie TENG is a senior lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication (CELC). She has taught on courses in academic writing, communication skills and critical thinking. She is interested in pedagogical research and is currently collaborating on a project that investigates the use of questions in dialogic feedback. Jessie previously contributed a post on the benefits of designing online multiple-choice quizzes to enhance student engagement with, and understanding of, course content.

Jessie can be reached at

Norhayati ISMAIL is a senior lecturer at CELC and has taught and designed communication courses for business, computing, engineering, and real estate students. Her research interests include effective course design and meaningful classroom interactions and feedback.

Norhayati can be reached at

Daron Benjamin LOO teaches academic writing at CELC. His research interests include the examination of professional identity among English teachers and learners, as well as the development of students’ metalanguage for academic communication.

Daron can be reached at


Carless, D. (2016). Feedback as dialogue. In M. A. Peters (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory (pp. 1-6). Springer.

Carless, D. (2013). Trust and its role in facilitating dialogic feedback. In D. Boud & L.Molly (Eds.). Feedback in higher and professional education (pp. 90-103). Routledge.

Henderson, M., Ajjawai, R., Boud, D., & Molloy, E. (2019). The impact of feedback in higher education: Improving assessment outcomes for learners. Palgrave MacMillan.

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