Giving Students Feedback

A student asks a question to one of the employees at the lobby welcome desk.

Ever wonder how giving students feedback makes a difference?

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

  • Are more motivated to improve
  • Develop confidence
  • Learn more.

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 in a classroom setting. A single female is centered in the shots.

What students say about feedback

Students appreciate constructive feedback and they like it when their teachers are specific about how they can improve.

YES! What works…

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.

Honesty matters

I like that my teacher is honest and clear when giving feedback – she doesn’t beat around the bush!

NO! What doesn’t…

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.

Have you tried the “Sandwich Technique”?

  1. Start with something positive.
  2. Next say something constructive.
  3. Finally say something positive.
A female student is sitting on the floor of the library and reading a book and smiling. In the background there is a man pulling out a book from the shelves.

Know the terms

The Main Terms…

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:

  • Evaluation – always includes a mark or grade
  • Feedback – provides students with information about their progress in learning – it does not need to be tied to a mark or a grade

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.

More terms...

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.

One tool demonstrates the difference between evaluation and feedback

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

Students meeting and watching another student give a presentation in front of the whiteboard.

5 Guiding principles to give effective feedback

1. Be clear

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.

2. Pay attention to timing

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.

3. Link your feedback to the real world

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.

4. Take a Universal Design for Learning Approach

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.

5. Involve students

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.

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5 Main barriers to giving students feedback

1. Fear of consequences

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.

2. Lack of knowledge and skill

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.

3. Boredom with repetition

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.

4. Course design

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.

5. Lack of time

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.

A group of female students working on the computers in the library common areas.

True or False? Myths and misconceptions

There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about giving students effective feedback.

What do you think? Take this quick facts or fiction quiz.

The best teachers give pages and pages of comments in student assignments.
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.
It is not possible to give feedback in a large class.
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.
Any feedback is better than none.
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.
Students are only motivated by marks.
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.
There is no point in giving students feedback because they don’t learn from it.
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.
Self assessment by students can actually increase student performance.
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.
Giving effective feedback means more teacher time and work.
It is more work and takes longer to give a student feedback about failing if I haven’t given feedback throughout the course.
Teachers need to make sure they aren’t too direct with giving negative feedback, as this only demoralizes a student.
Honesty and respect are critical to giving effective feedback. You need to differentiate between the student as a person and their work.
Students in online courses are always looking for face-to-face feedback from teachers.
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 more confident a student is, the more effective it is for the teacher to give more explicit and frequent feedback.
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.

Tips and tools to try

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:

  • Frame – offer corrections in terms of what is needed for the assignment to be better.
You need to expand on the link between ice cream and dairy farming.

  • Be specific – tell students about is needed to improve.
Give me three examples of desserts that incorporate ice cream.

  • Offers suggestions –invite students to pursue ideas.
I would like to see you explore ice cream’s ingredients in different countries.

  • Ask questions – questions can steer students in the right direction.
Why didn’t you include the influence of weather and the environment?


Feedback tools

  1. Informal Peer Feedback – teaches students how to give and receive feedback and develop their own self-assessment skills. Peer feedback can be very effective if the process is well-structured, and rubrics are a great tool to show students what to look for.
  2. Heads-Up Common Errors – before a major assignment, the teacher provides the students with a summary of common errors occurring most often in the course assignment, and provides general resources or strategies students can use to avoid making the same errors.
  3. Large Class Structured – uses a structured tool to provide written feedback to the large class. The tool is similar to a rubric –it summarizes the common errors found in a particular assignment and highlights where students generally did well.
  4. Checklists – help students to assess their own assignments before handing them in.
  5. Two-way Street Boxes – students drop a brief note in two different boxes as they leave class. The blue box is for comments on what the student learned in the class and the yellow one is for what the student didn’t quite get in the class. The teacher summarizes the feedback and presents it back at the beginning of the next class. This allows students to see if they “got it” or if they are alone in struggling with a particular concept and gives teachers an opportunity to provide clarification.
  6. Blackboard – has a tool that can be used to give real time feedback in your courses.
  7. In-class group work – provides opportunity for teachers to circulate and provide feedback during the activity.
  8. Immediate Feedback – offers immediate feedback without the actual presence of the teacher. When technology is available in a course, students can submit assignments and receive an immediate automatic message back from the teacher saying that if their assignment includes certain specific aspects, then they are on the right track. This provides immediate feedback for students to either confirm that they are on track, or offers feedback that they have been less successful and may require more assistance.

Evaluation tools

  1. Universal Design for Learning course design – provides an important opportunity to decide on multiple evaluation approaches, including:

    Multiple evaluations – the greater the different types of assessments – for example, visual/graphic representations, videos, skill demonstrations, summaries, presentations – that students complete, the more information they will have about their progress in the course, and the more chance to improve

    Multiple formats offering students a variety of formats – for example, recorded, poster, on-line, dramas – to submit assignments gives them opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge in different ways. And it can make the marking process more interesting for the teacher.

  2. Rubrics – make your expectations and marking scheme clear, offer samples of what is expected, and provide a structure for marking and making comments. Rubrics also demonstrate the transparency in your expectations. There are different kinds of rubrics for different purposes. Click here for suggestions.
  3. Exemplars – present a model of what is expected of student work. Exemplars can be developed for any subject including clinical or field education courses. Asking graduating students for permission to keep copies of their work is a great way to showcase your expectations to incoming students.
  4. One-page Student Assignment developing assignments that require a lot of student work that can be demonstrated in a one-page assignment. Higher stakes assignments should take more student time but don’t necessarily require pages and pages of documentation. Develop assignments that require a lot of “behind the scenes” work, but culminate in a one page summary. This cuts down on the amount of reading required by the teacher, but still provides in depth research and summary opportunities for students.
  5. Grade tracking mechanisms – help students see where they stand in the course at any time. Blackboard is the perfect tool for this.
  6. Commentary feedback decreases the need to keep repeating comments on individual assignments since teachers often give the same feedback to many students. A commentary feedback form based on a rubric includes standard comments and suggestions for improvement. You just check the boxes that relevant to each student.
  7. Joint assignments for large classes, a joint assignment between two courses makes the marking tasks more manageable. Work with a colleague to create a joint assignment that includes curriculum for both your courses. The students write one paper – a bonus for them – and you and your colleague each have to only mark ‘half’ of it.
  8. Formal peer feedback – builds a required peer feedback component into assignments. Students submit the first version to a peer who marks the paper using the rubric. The student then submits a revised paper, along with the peer’s feedback for final grading by the teacher.
  9. Staged marking – assignments are divided into stages, so that students hand in parts of the assignment over the semester – for example,
    • General outline
    • Thesis statement and key points,
    • Draft essay
    • Final paper.

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.

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What teachers say about giving students effective feedback

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?
Module 3

Gathering Student Feedback

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