Can We Talk? Providing Students with Meaningful Feedback

The use of meaningful feedback is an important tool for instructors as it is directly related to the adult’s development as a learner. Instructors assess assignments and a grade is the outcome; however, one of the most important elements of the grading process is the depth of feedback provided. “Feedback has been shown to be one of the most significant activities a teacher can engage in to improve student achievement” (Hattie, 1992). An instructor’s feedback has the potential to build working relationships and it also has a direct impact on student engagement, motivation, and performance.

Students demonstrate their progress in the course and their understanding of the course topic through their written assignments and discussion question responses. W. Fred Miser, M.D.believes that “unlike evaluation, which judges performance, feedback is the process of helping out students assess their performance, identify areas where they are right on target and provide them with tips on what they can do in the future to improve in areas that need correcting.” Feedback becomes meaningful and encourages student progress when instructors customize it to address specific developmental needs.

Create Tailored Feedback From an instructor’s perspective, feedback can address specific assignment requirements or it can be expanded to include ongoing developmental issues. This is an effective method of addressing poor quality work, especially when the same errors are made on a regular basis. From a student’s perspective they are likely to care about the feedback provided if it has addressed their needs and offered suggestions for improvement.

Consider the Use of a Rubric The use of a rubric allows instructors to develop a uniform method of providing feedback. (Check out blogger Rich Russell’s Teaching in Pajamas post on rubrics titled, “Crossing the Rubricon.”) If a student receives points or a grade without further explanation, s/he may not understand how to build upon his/her strengths and develop her/his weaknesses. A rubric can list each criterion of the assignment—from the required content to the mechanics of the response—along with room for comments. Another advantage of a rubric is that it can be shared with students prior to the assignment due date as a means of clarifying expectations, which also allows students to self-check their work.

Feedback provided through a rubric can become meaningful if the instructor utilizes more than short comments, such as “met requirements” or “good job.” Short comments that appear to be generic or canned may actually discourage a student’s progress. In addition to providing detailed comments throughout the rubric, a wrap up note at the end of the rubric can be included that summarizes the overall feedback.

Encourage Students to Review their Feedback When students understand that their grades are a result of points earned, and that points earned reflect their progress in class, they are likely to respond to feedback, suggestions, and questions provided by their instructor. There are occasions when students continue to make the same mistakes or they do not appear to be implementing the suggestions provided. This is when follow up feedback may be required, which can include the use of directed questions and one-on-one conversations.

Encourage Students to Ask Questions Feedback provides a powerful form of communication, one that promotes growth and development, when instructors encourage students to be co-creators in the process of learning. Instructors can ask questions in their feedback that encourages students to reflect further upon the topic, the assignment, and their progress in class. As students learn that feedback promotes interactions with their instructors they are more likely to ask questions and become involved.

Provide Prompt Feedback When feedback is provided in a timely manner, students are given an opportunity to address developmental issues and concerns before other assignments are due. “The longer students have to wait for feedback, the weaker the connection to their effort becomes, and the less likely they are to benefit” (Focus on Effectiveness).

Use a Positive and Supportive Tone “One of the biggest challenges you face is to make the grading and evaluation process constructive” (Columbia University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Teaching Center). Feedback that has a negative tone and is focused strictly on the areas of weakness may discourage students from putting forth their best effort, especially if the instructor is not physically present to address his or her concerns. A positive approach to feedback can lead to the development of strong working relationships, which in turn may reduce potential resistance to suggestions and resources provided.

Feedback that is tailored to the student’s strengths and areas of development becomes a meaningful form of communication between instructors and students, and encourages active involvement in the process of learning. When students’ developmental needs are addressed in a positive manner, their performance is likely to improve, along with their motivation and engagement in the class.

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