When it comes to reviewing the work of students, providing helpful, as well as meaningful feedback is an essential part of the instructing experience. Students can learn from mistakes and build upon strengths when provided with the proper feedback.
Part of writing feedback to students is making sure that it is effective. The reason for effective feedback is to provide “specific guidance on how to improve learning outcomes and enable(s) the learning to think about the learning involved in the task and not just the activity of completing the task.” (Hemerda, J & Frese, J., 2014) This can take form in numerous ways. Consider that feedback must first be understandable. Students will best receive feedback that is expressed in ways that make sense to them. So, when reviewing a student’s assignment, instead of breaking out a thesaurus to mark-up papers, speak to them in very simple, concise terms. Also, nobody likes to drown in a sea of red ink. Instead of tearing apart a paper, as an instructor consider what the student can fix themselves. In choosing a smaller number of things to address, the student can focus on these items with greater ease and better prepare themselves for future assignments.
This goes hand in hand with making sure that while feedback is clear, concise, and selective; that it is also appropriately contextualized for the assignment. By referring to the criteria when leaving feedback, this serves to reinforce the lesson that the instructor is trying to teach. Feedback is not just about pointing out areas that need work. Students need to also know what they are doing right. By providing a sense of balance in giving feedback, students do not just take away the message they are doing things wrong. They can see that while some things need work, they are doing just fine or perhaps, even excelling in other areas. Finally, consider that above all else, feedback must be non-judgmental. A student should never feel personally attacked after reading feedback to an assignment. By focusing being “descriptive” rather than “evaluative,” students are less apt to take personal slight over any criticism of the assignment itself.
In the case of providing feedback to students, one size does not fit all. Each assignment an instructor grades and leaves feedback on will require the instructor to consider the student they are providing the information to and to do so in a way that will benefit the student. One way to provide feedback for a diverse group of learners is to “ask students to request feedback, to attach questions with their submission identifying areas with which they need help.” (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2014) This technique can allow the instructor to deliver personalized feedback about areas that concern the student. Instructors can also, instead of writing out feedback, choose to utilize audio or video to better connect with students and learners that respond better to audio or visual material.
Feedback can also expand from the instructor alone to incorporating peer-to-peer feedback so that students can see what their peers have to say and in seeing other’s opinions, possibly be more receptive to the instructor’s notations. Instructors might also decide to provide assignments that past students have written so that students can better visualize what is being requested of them. In addition to this, students can learn to self-assess by asking themselves questions as they do their assignments. An instructor that can help teach their students how to ask and answer these questions will be able to help the student succeed in the future.
Overall, instructors need to respond as readers and not writers. A student does not need to know how the instructor would write them paper themselves. It is important to “not do the student’s thinking and writing for them.” (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006) Remember that good feedback is able to provide the opportunity for students to close any gaps that are between their current level of performance and the instructor’s desired level of performance. To do that, instructors must be sure that they are abundantly clear in clarifying what is considered “good” performance for the assignment. Does the student meet the goals for the assignment? Have they met the criteria for the grading rubric? Are they operating at, above, or below expected standards? With these questions in mind, instructors must also make sure they are giving students a high-quality of information about their performance and if it does/does not meet any and/or all expectations. Using these tools, instructors can again, prepare students to be able to develop a sense of self and provide them with the equipment to properly reflect on the assignment. Self-assessment is important and can be highly beneficial. As stated above, in addition to working toward building the ability to self-assess, utilizing peer dialogues in the feedback process will teach students to handle criticism and to be receptive to the feedback they receive. All of these types of feedback continue to reinforce that building self-esteem is essential and that driving home positive motivational beliefs will be an optimal way to help instructors shape their lessons.
Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in higher education, 31(2), 199-218.
- (Specific) Are expectations made clear for student and their performance? Are they given a precise and measurable goal for their performance?
- (Understandable) Does this make sense? It is easy to read and comprehend? Can anything be made clearer? Have all goals been made transparent?
- (Selective) What are the main areas to focus on? Where can the student realistically fix errors? What criteria is and is not being met?
- (Contextualized) Does the assignment achieve the desired outcome? Have the assessment criteria been met? What does and does not work? How can we bridge the gap between current and desired performance?
- (Non-judgmental) Are learning goals being addressed? Can areas addressing performance be addressed in a better, non-threatening manner? Is this more evaluative than it should be? Have positive behaviors been encouraged?
- (Balanced) Have strengths been addressed? Have areas to improve been addressed?
- Has the student requested any assistance or advice in problematic areas?
- Would feedback be improved upon with audio and/or visual element?
- Would student(s) benefit from peer-to-peer review?
- Would providing supplemental material assist student understanding?
- Can self-assessment techniques improve student’s current and future understanding of material and/or assignments? Does student display ability to reflect on his/her/their work?
- What can I do differently in the future? Do I need to modify the assignment or the grading rubric?