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Providing Meaningful Feedback

November 01, 2017

By Tori Reany (Instructional Design & Learning Technologies)

Do you ever feel like your students are not taking your advice?  Do you get frustrated at all the hours you put into grading just to have students seemingly ignore your comments?

Perhaps students are reading your feedback, but they don't know what to do with it.

You can take key steps to make your feedback more meaningful to students and increase the chances that the work you have put into grading will be put to use.

First, we want to make sure that feedback is comprehensive.  Comprehensive feedback should seek to answer the following four questions: 

  1. What can the student do? 
  2. What can't the student do? 
  3. How does the student's work compare with that of others? 
  4. How can the student do better? 

Truly comprehensive feedback will look back at both the achievements and pitfalls, provide a clear goal to work towards, while keeping in mind the level at which students should be expected to perform, and advise students on steps they can take to reach that goal.  While keeping the above four questions in mind, let's discuss some characteristics of quality feedback.

Six Characteristics of Quality Feedback

  1. Understandable
    Feedback should be written using vocabulary that is understandable to the student.  If the student just incorrectly completed an assignment, then they don’t have a full grasp on the material.  Try to break down the feedback into vocabulary and steps the student can understand.

  2. Specific and Actionable
    Comments such as “You’re doing great!” or “Keep trying!” may sound encouraging.  However, they are not instructive or actionable.  Comments likes these do not answer any of the comprehensive questions and leave the student wondering what was great, what they did wrong, and how they could do better.

  3. Goal-Referenced
    When assessing student performance, remember the assessment criteria.  Reference the learning outcomes in your comments.  Orient your feedback around a specific goal or achievement the students are (or should be) working towards.
  4. Forward-Looking
    Remember that every assessment is a learning opportunity.  Give students something to think about.  It is important to suggest how students might improve on future assignments and provide them with the opportunity to do so.
  5. Balanced
    Your feedback should be critical, but not condescending. One technique to help is to use sandwich feedback.  First, give a specific positive comment.  What is something the student did well?  Then, provide constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. Finally, end with an overall positive comment about the student’s performance.
  6. Timely
    Feedback should be provided as soon as possible.  Wait too long, and students might not connect your feedback with their actions.  We also do not want students to keep repeating their mistakes, so provide feedback in time to impact the next assignment.

Mastery of anything requires trial-and-error.  We all know the saying “practice makes perfect.” However, without feedback, you may be practicing the wrong thing!  The saying really should be “PERFECT practice makes perfect.”  If you do not know you are making mistakes, you will continue the same incorrect habits without an opportunity for improvement.  Feedback is a necessity for students to learn what mistakes they are making and how they can fix them.

For more information about quality feedback and feedback tips and tips, view the PowerPoint presentation on Providing Meaningful Feedback.  The last slide includes links to sample rubrics, online resources, and online samples.

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