Most teachers agree that giving good feedback to students is a vital part of instruction, and the format of that feedback will often determine its effectiveness. These are a few tips that I have learned over the years about giving effective feedback to students.
Tip #1: Do not label the front of a student’s assignment with a grade.
I took to heart some very good advice that I heard in a Marzano academy a few years ago. If you put a percentage score or letter grade on the front of a student’s assignment, they will be completely done looking it over and will not pay any attention to anything that you take the time to write to them. They have the grade, they have the info they care about, they are moving on. Unfortunately, they will miss all guidance that you provide for them. After attending this academy, I stopped providing an overall grade on assignments at all. Rather, I provide notes about specific skills that students are working to improve. In fact, with standards based grading, as our school district uses, students track progress on skill sets and standards, not grades per assignment.
Tip #2: Make your feedback a call to action.
If your district uses standards based grading, and even if it does not, your feedback should provide students with a direction and focus for improving their work. If you ARE using standards based grading, your written feedback can provide an effective format for reteaching the material so your students can make adjustments and resubmit the work for a better grade. When students know that they are expected to act upon the comments that you give them, it becomes a habit to take care of the corrections and re-direction as soon as work is returned to them.
Tip #3: Provide students with time to react your feedback.
Many students have difficulties reading and responding to feedback in a responsible manner on their own. They may lack motivation, or organizational skills; most often they just plain forget about it once the paper is filed away in a notebook or backpack. You can make the feedback more meaningful by providing time for reading your notes and directions as well as an opportunity to address issues in their work right away. Conferencing with students takes time, but provides an opportunity for discussion to ensure student understanding as well as your own understanding of what your students really know, and conferencing can take place while students work on another assignment independently.
Tip #4: Make it timely!
This is the biggest challenge for me when it comes to providing effective student feedback. It seems like I am always rushing to get grading done right away and I fail miserably. I do not do my grading in class, unless the purpose of the assignment is for a quick check, and something always seems to take up my planning period time. Then after school I have tutoring, and meeting after meeting. By the time I get home I have several pressing things to do for the next school day and I just never seem to have enough hours in the day! Does that sound familiar? I sure hope so, because I would hate to think that I am the only with all of these “excuses”! With that being said, what good does it do to give students feedback on multiplication when we are finished with that unit and we are on to division?! Not much; we need to give our feedback right away.
Tip #5 Limit the number of assignments for which you provide your feedback.
Even if you collect a large amount of student work, especially on a daily basis, you do not need to provide a great deal of feedback on every single piece that you collect. You simply can’t keep up with that and you will be miserable trying! Use most of your student work as quick check practice activities and then pick a limited number of formative assessments to use for grades and feedback, but when you do provide this communication with students make sure that it is meaningful and addresses specific skills and tasks that students need to know and understand. This becomes much more doable for you and much more useful for your students.