Giving Students Feedback Effectively

Feedback should be:

Geared toward improvement
Focused on the work, not on the person

What does the student most need to know in order to improve?

What is the student capable of understanding/doing at this time?
What will give the student the biggest “pay-off” in terms of improvement?

  • Give more feedback earlier, less feedback later.
  • Feedback given with grades is not necessarily attended to.
  • Return work with feedback as promptly as possible after the assignment is completed. Delayed feedback means students will have moved on to other things and won’t make use of feedback.
  • Don’t use feedback to justify the grade.
  • You don’t have to comment on everything bad.
  • Gear feedback to the goals of the assignment.
  • Be sure to let the student know what they did well.
  • Avoid cryptic comments like “wordy” or “logic?”—Or, if used, explain in an end-note.
  • Keep track of feedback previously given to student, so you can comment on changes/improvement.
  • Don’t “hijack” written work by doing extensive editing or rewriting.
  • Don’t make assumptions about the student’s motivation or state of mind; keep comments focused on the work.
  • Avoid “you-statements” (“You have a good understanding of the theory.”); make statements about the work (“This essay effectively explains the theory.”) or about your response to it (“I found the explanation of the theory clear.”)
  • Write “Please see me” if comments need to be long and complicated, or if you think the student needs extra help to improve.

Special tips for face-to-face feedback:

Try to get the student to say something about the work first, such as explaining what they were trying to accomplish, how they felt they did, or what their favorite/least favorite parts are.

Respond to what the student has said, but without directly contradicting them.

Approach the feedback in a collaborative manner: the two of you together are discovering the strengths/weaknesses of the work and how to improve.

Keep ownership of the work with the student.

Maintain eye contact and a friendly facial expression.

Use humor, share personal experience (briefly), or do anything you can to help put the student at ease.

Take notes, and give them to the student at the end of the session.

Thinking about students’ reactions to feedback:

Be wary of trying to use feedback for motivation, as this can backfire. Different students may respond to positive or negative feedback in ways you do not anticipate. Instead, think of feedback as information needed for improvement. Try to keep it balanced and encouraging. Encouraging does not mean giving a false sense of accomplishment, but rather communicating a belief in the student’s ability to improve.

Be aware that negative feedback (“Lab procedure is poorly organized”) can be quite devastating for some students. The same information can be conveyed in a less negative manner by giving the feedback in terms of your response to the work: “I had trouble following your procedure”; or, in terms of improvement needed: “This would be stronger with a more clearly organized lab procedure.”

Making feedback more efficient:

Use a checklist of assignment criteria, then add a short individual comment about the most needed improvement(s) and biggest strength(s).
Don’t feel you have to comment on everything.

Invite students to see you individually if they would like more detailed feedback.

Read all assignments quickly before you get started. If many students will need the same feedback, create a short handout rather than writing the same thing multiple times.

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