Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Giving valuable feedback to students

Feedback to students can come from different sources: peers, teachers and the student's own reflection. In this post, I will concentrate on feedback given by teachers and how it can contribute to student learning. Having written a minor thesis on formative assessment, I have found the literature on feedback quite prolific. I submit the following practical thoughts for your consideration:
Give feedback often: It is important that the students not be left wondering about their level of understanding or performance until an assessment is administered. Feedback needs to be timely. Good questioning practices, about which I hope to write soon, can be a great source of information about "gaps" we would like the students to fill.

Be Specific: Clarify the area that the student needs to address. In the words of Professors Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black, there is no point in telling a comedian to be funnier.

Use Comments, not grades:
Whether or not students grading is a good idea is not the issue here. A comment like "don't forget that you can only add lengths with the same unit" tells them how they can improve in a way that a "B" does not.

Concentrate on the task, not the kid: Telling a student "you're a good boy" when he performs well might leave him beaming for 10 minutes. This can make also him reluctant to attempt a more challenging task in the future. You see, his status is now at stake. Why risk falling from the rank of the good? I highly recommend Carol Dweck's book on this (Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality and Development. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press).

Allow for limited attention: Let's say you found 10 mistakes in a student's draft essay or Maths worksheet. Returning the paper with 10 comments will only confuse that student. It is best to concentrate on two or three of the mistakes and expect the student to improve on those.

Allow time for the student to act on your feedback: I find that allowing class time for students to act on my feedback works better than asking them to do it in their own time. The students are usually keen to help you help them as long as they see your comments as referring to the task and not to their person.

Allow for differentiation: A student who can do everything you have expected so far can still gain from your feedback. You may suggest an extension activity or suggest that she attempt to find more ways to solve a particular problem.

I hope this makes sense to you but I will be grateful for your comments. Please let me know if you have something to add or dispute.


Leadership Freak



Thanks for you post. I particularly like your last idea. It's sad that those doing well may not get as much instructive feedback as those doing poorly.

Success to you,


Rambling Teacher


Thanks for the feedback on "feedback" Dan :-) I think "differentiation" is one of the hardest things in education, especially extending those who are doing well.



I actually like to use grades because in the majority of cases if students take on your advice, follow your recommendations and make the changes they need to, it then reflects in an improved grade score the next time. I can tell you about a challenge I had term 2 with a student who proceeded to argue with me when she received her work back with a "D". The thrust of her argument was that I obviously stupid and didn't recognise her as the "A" student she was- every other teacher knew she was an "A" student! I tried calm reasoning, going through the comments I had written and got no-where, such was her fury! Part of the issue I later discovered was that she always asked other students what they got as a score. In turn they asked her and it certainly seemed to be her method of establishing her superiority. Also, she is a very bright girl who didn't believe she had to put much effort into my subject area because after all it was only Food Tech! It took me another two classes to "win " her over and finally she calmed down, let me sit with her, talk through her errors and give her strategies. By that time I also had some other work that I mocked up to show her what an "A" written evaluation would cover. It worked, her next piece was an "A+"! She continued to scowl at me for the rest of the term and achieve very good results because she realised she had to do her best . I love telling stories and often do it to make students remember significant points! It works
Hope your day is good:) Liz

Rambling Teacher


Thanks for the comment, Liz. I think that showing a sample of what an A looks like is a great idea. In this case, I would say that what you told and showed the student was the feedback that made the difference. It is good that she used the grade to approach you, though one would have wished her to do so more constructively.