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How to give students feedback they will actually use

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How to give students feedback they will actually use

Do you spend precious time grading only to have students ignore your feedback?  

Let’s fix that!  Here are four ways you can improve feedback to students:

1. Make feedback specific and actionable

Feedback needs to include specific information, not just general praise or punishment, in order to be effective. 

Feedback should guide students on how they can improve, so vague commentary such as, “you need to review the steps you took” or “good work” does little to support growth.  In your feedback to students, provide concrete suggestions and examples that can be acted upon. 

2. Personalize feedback to communicate high expectations

We provide students with feedback to help them improve, but some students may misinterpret critical feedback as negatively biased.  Students who are more likely to experience discrimination based on characteristics such as race or socioeconomic status are more likely to interpret teacher feedback as unfair or biased rather than honest and helpful. 

However, research demonstrates the positive effects of “wise” critical feedback.  In a 2006 study by Cohen and Garcia, Black students responded positively to critical feedback when it was combined with high expectations and assurance that the student could meet those expectations.  

This can be as simple as attaching a sticky-note on the student’s paper, stating, “I’m giving you these comments on your writing because I have very high expectations for you and I know you can reach them.”  With these “high expectations” comments, 72% of Black students chose to revise their papers, scoring an average of 13% higher. 

3. Highlight what the student is doing right

Students need to know what success looks like in their own work.  This is not empty praise like “good job”.  Instead, specific, positive feedback validates the work the student has done and builds a foundation of knowledge and success.  Acknowledging the improvements the student has made, even if she hasn’t yet met the target, can help sustain the effort needed for continued growth.  

4. Keep feedback separate from the overall grade

There isn’t much point in providing detailed feedback to students if they aren’t going to apply it to future work.  One way to help students focus on feedback and improvement is to separate the feedback from the overall grade.   For example, mark up a writing assignment with feedback and/or score using a rubric (without points).  Record the overall grade elsewhere–don’t give it to students.  After reviewing your feedback, ask students to reflect on their own work, identifying what they did well and what they still need to improve.  Encourage (or require) students to make these revisions based on your feedback. 

Students tend to view the overall grade, such as a percentage or letter grade, as the “real” grade and more important than any specific feedback. Therefore, removing the overall grade allows students to focus on the specific actions they can take to improve.

It takes time

High quality feedback requires thoughtful, careful responses which take much more time than quick smiley faces and check marks.   Plus, the timeliness of feedback is crucial–receiving comments weeks after the fact has little impact on learning.  So, next week I’ll share a few feedback strategies to help you put these practices to use–in a timely manner!  

Like these ideas? To learn classroom engagement strategies that make the most immediate impact, we recommend checking out our program, "Fostering Student Engagement."

Learn More >

Amy Jimenez

Author Since: May 8, 2018

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