Giving students effective feedback is an important teaching strategy. And it’s a ‘win-win’ benefit for teachers and students.
The more feedback students receive, the more they can improve their performance.
The better students perform, the more satisfying the learning environment becomes for both students and teachers.
Research shows that when students receive effective feedback they
Good teachers want to respond to their students’ requests for more feedback.
The tips and suggestions in this guide will help you design what works best for you to give your students the feedback they want and need.
Students appreciate constructive feedback and they like it when their teachers are specific about how they can improve.
Feedback is a two-way street
I think it works best if teachers not only give students feedback, but also ask for their feedback on how things are going.
Timing makes a difference
Getting my assignments and tests back promptly helps me understand what I did wrong (or right) to help me prepare for the next time.
I like that my teacher is honest and clear when giving feedback – she doesn’t beat around the bush!
No comments = No help
Getting a mark without any comments means I have no idea where or how I can improve for next time.
End of term is too late
When my teacher waits till the end of the semester to give feedback on assignments I have no opportunity to improve.
Harsh words hurt
It’s very discouraging when teachers are mean, make derogatory comments or are dismissive.
The terms ‘evaluation’ and ‘feedback’ often are used interchangeably which can lead to confusion about the difference between the two – for both teachers and students.
Q. What is the difference between evaluation and feedback?
A. The presence — or absence — of a mark or grade is what clearly differentiates the concepts of evaluation and feedback:
Feedback can be:
Formal – information given to students specifically related to the course learning outcomes. It can be verbal or written.
Informal – less directly attached to a specific learning outcome. This kind of feedback is most often verbal and usually occurs in the classroom. It can be as simple as the teacher recognizing a good question!
Both evaluation and feedback provide students with information about how they are progressing in a course.
Evaluation is one type of feedback, but feedback doesn’t have to be evaluation – it can be information to correct, advise, encourage or redirect students.
Formative – describes information given to students during the course about their progress. Both evaluation and feedback can be formative. Formative evaluation involves an evaluation strategy in which a grade or mark is given, but the purpose of the evaluation is to provide the student with information about how he or she is progressing in the course and can assist the student in completing future assignments.
Summative – describes information given to the student at the end of the course to convey the final evaluation of the student’s performance in that course.
Authentic assessment– describes a particular model of evaluation that requires students to perform real-world tasks to demonstrate meaningful application of the expected knowledge and skills.
You can use the One-Minute Paper to give students both feedback and evaluation.
First, for feedback: in the last few minutes of class have students write the answer a specific question – for example, “What were two key concepts we discussed today?”
Next, collect the answers and synthesize them in any way you like. You could summarize them or ask individual students or a group of them to read them out. The class could come to agreement.
At the beginning of the next class, review any common misunderstandings, clarify key concepts and reinforce ‘on track’ answers.
Finally, for evaluation: for three weeks after Intersession, do the exact same exercise for 12 marks, 4 marks a week Make sure to have students write their name on what they hand in.
Classes 4, 5, 6, = FEEDBACK
Classes 9, 10, 11 = EVALUATION
The research, literature and what students say all indicate that feedback that is specific, brief and is directly connected to the course learning outcomes is most effective.
Start by making your expectations clear on the first day of the course. Refer to your expectations often. Even better, ask students to summarize what they are.
Many successful teachers say that using rubrics saves them time and makes the feedback process more effective and efficient. There is a wide range of formats for designing rubrics – see here for some how-to suggestions.
Feedback that is frequent, prompt and spread over time is most effective. Giving timely feedback can correct and prevent problems ‘down the road’ for both students and teachers, for example, if students aren’t getting the results they think they should be.
When you introduce an assignment, take a few minutes to provide the entire class with feedback about common areas of error or difficulty that previous classes have had with this particular assignment. That ‘advance’ or ‘heads up’ feedback can significantly decrease the amount of time you spend making the same corrections on many assignments. You may want to consider using an exemplar, which presents a ‘model’ of what is expected for a particular assignment. Find out more about exemplars here.
Both teachers and students at George Brown identify the value of linking learning activities and feedback to what will be expected of graduates in the industries their programs are preparing them to join.
For that matter, when you link your expectations of student performance to the real world, you are helping them get ready for life after college overall.
Since teachers and students agree that the most effective feedback is given frequently and over the whole course, it’s important to vary when, how you give it, and how students can access it.
The most effective feedback involves a combination of strategies – for example, it can be given visually, orally, in writing, recorded; experiment with different combinations on different assignments.
Teachers aren’t the only source of effective feedback. The literature and research are clear about the value and effectiveness that student self-assessment and peer feedback can have on student learning. Studies indicate that even ‘at risk’ students can learn how to ‘self-regulate’ their progress.
Also, student self-assessment and peer assessment strategies can decrease the amount of time the teacher needs to spend providing feedback. See here for peer feedback strategies and suggestions you can use or adapt.
Teachers are sometimes concerned about making a judgment on student performance because of the potential fallout of giving negative feedback that might be seen as ‘negative’ by the student. Examples of concerns are extra work for the teacher, having to explain the failure to the student, negative emotional reaction from the student, or an impending appeal.
In addition, teachers are less likely to provide feedback related to a failing performance if they like the student and are worried about being disliked or being considered unfair.
Giving effective feedback is not an inherent ability. Research indicates that many teachers don’t feel they have the knowledge and skills to provide feedback to students, especially negative feedback. This concern is reinforced when students might not understand feedback comments or interpret them incorrectly.
Providing feedback on large numbers of the same assignment can be a monotonous and boring task, which can become even more challenging under end-of-term time constraints and pressures.
Including multiple opportunities for students to get feedback ensures the feedback they get helps them to learn and progress during the semester. When a course is structured so a large proportion of the course grade is assigned to evaluation at the end of the semester, the feedback process becomes more onerous and stressful both for students and teachers.
Echoing research findings, teachers at George Brown identify time pressures – both to give meaningful feedback to their students and to document it – as a major challenge.
There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about giving students effective feedback.
What do you think? Take this quick facts or fiction quiz.
Research indicates that it is not pages and pages of comments but simply three feedback comments per essay that is optimum.
I try not to overwhelm them with too much – I often give the class a general group correction, then I go around to individuals and give individual direction too.
Research reveals that effective lecturers provide effective feedback to students. The size of the class is not a limiter in terms of being able to be an effective teacher and give effective student feedback.
In my large classes, I use a lot of group work and give group feedback. I find it really helps students learn from each other, so it is not just the feedback they receive from me.
The research identifies that giving ineffective feedback can actually decrease student performance.
My feedback strategies change depending on who the student is – some students respond better to written feedback and other students need to have a conversation.
Research indicates that frequent high-stakes evaluations – where only grades or marks are given and no comments – have a negative effect on student motivation for learning and are contrary to preparation for life-long learning.
Feedback isn’t just telling a student they got 10/15. You need to take into account what information is most helpful for students to improve, how they can change, or what they can keep on doing in order to progress.
The research suggests that it is because students don’t understand the feedback given by teachers that they are not able to take action to change.
I think students make better use of the feedback if they’re asked to write a short reflection on it. This can also let you know as a teacher if they understand the feedback you provided.
The research shows that students themselves can make fairly good assessments of quality and performance and that actual training in self-assessment can increase student performance on final exams.
I think we need to give students more responsibility for learning by expecting students to self-evaluate based on the feedback they received from the teacher on the assignment.
The literature describes the effectiveness of using technology to provide immediate electronic feedback on the content of the student’s written submission that does not require the teacher physically be present to initiate the feedback.
It is more work and takes longer to give a student feedback about failing if I haven’t given feedback throughout the course.
The research reveals that feedback that is overly concerned with softening criticism may actually decrease the value in helping students to improve.
Honesty and respect are critical to giving effective feedback. You need to differentiate between the student as a person and their work.
The research indicates that text messaging (when combined with other synchronous tools) is effective in increasing student co-operation and is seen as a good instructional practice by students in online courses.
In an online course it is even more important how the teacher gives student feedback – for example, the words that are used. I have found that it works much better if I make sure that students know they have a chance to respond to my feedback if they don’t agree.
The research reveals that in fact the less confidence students have in themselves, the more explicit and frequent feedback they need.
As a teacher, I remember what it was like not to be the top in the class and what I wanted the teacher to say to me.
A quick reminder about this Guide’s definition of the differences between evaluation and feedback:
Evaluation is one type of feedback, but feedback doesn’t have to be evaluation.
The tools below have been divided according to that understanding, but many could be adapted for either evaluation or feedback.
Imagine that one of your assignments is to have students write a short essay on the history of ice cream! When you are giving feedback on this assignment, try these tips:
You need to expand on the link between ice cream and dairy farming.
Give me three examples of desserts that incorporate ice cream.
I would like to see you explore ice cream’s ingredients in different countries.
Why didn’t you include the influence of weather and the environment?
Each stage is marked giving students immediate ‘right track’ feedback. This technique spreads the marking out over the semester and usually results in a better final product.
George Brown teachers agree that giving students meaningful feedback is key to being a good teacher. They say the most important elements of effective feedback are:
I am really clear about what I expect of my students –I use rubrics for everything. That way the students can really understand what is expected and don’t have to guess.
My approach to giving feedback doesn’t change if it is positive feedback or negative. I am always honest about the feedback and don’t beat around the bush. It really doesn’t help if you use a lot of smoke screens when trying to give negative feedback.
I think of feedback as a problem-solving process with the student. When things go wrong, I ask the student to explain what happened. If the student can’t explain it, I suggest why things went wrong.
I try not to use the “but” word when giving feedback – for example you wrote a very good paper, but your bibliography didn’t follow APA format. I use two separate sentences.
I accept that the goal of some students is just to pass – they still expect feedback but they are not striving for the top.
I give feedback as soon as possible. Students want validation that they are on track. This helps them gain self-confidence as they proceed over the semester.
Giving feedback from the beginning of the course helps some students de-select themselves out of the course before it becomes a major problem.
Students need to know where they stand at any moment in the course, if I expect them to be progressing. How can they know what they need to do to progress if they haven’t had any feedback?
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