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Provide effective and relevant feedback to your students

When you are giving feedback, you are also giving something else. You are providing your students with information about how they did, and encouragement to improve.

It's not a matter of telling them what they did wrong or making them feel better. It's about informing them about what they did right, and helping them understand why it is important to do it well in the future.

If you want your students to take your feedback seriously, take their learning seriously.

That means being prepared to respond to any question they ask you. And if they ask the same question again, don't be too stubborn to answer it again.

It also means being clear about your feedback. If there are two answers, say so; if the answer isn't obvious from the work itself, make it clear in a written comment or an oral response.

If there is no way for a student to know what happened based on the work alone (because it's missing some key element of context), provide that context in a written comment or an oral response. Don't leave them guessing; when in doubt, tell them what they did wrong or suggest that they try something different until it works.

Giving feedback to your students is one of the most important things you can do as a teacher. But it's also one of the hardest. It requires work and takes time. It requires that you understand the concepts your students are struggling with, and that you're able to communicate precisely what you want them to do differently.

Feedback is a means to a larger end — a well-made student — and is valuable to students in two ways: one, it helps them learn, and two, it helps them achieve their goals.

Let's look at the first point.

Feedback helps students learn in two ways — it helps them understand both their own mistakes and how they can do better. For this to be true, though, the feedback has to be clear, relevant, and accurate.

Unfortunately, many teachers have difficulty providing feedback that meets those standards.

But you can — you can provide valuable feedback to students.

Here are some tips that will help you give effective feedback that your students will use:

When should you give feedback?

There is a time and place for everything, and feedback is no exception. To be effective, feedback must be both timely and relevant — timely taken in the sense that your students need it right now; and relevant in the sense that it helps them do better.

Some teachers do this all the time. Others never get around to it at all.

There are lots of good reasons some teachers don't bother with feedback:

  • they're busy grading papers;

  • they don't know what would be useful;

  • they fear giving bad advice or causing trouble;

  • and so on, and so forth

But if this describes you, remember that

  1. Feedback is not a chore: Make sure your students know they can always ask for more feedback.

  2. Feedback is not optional: Give it at regular intervals throughout their term.

What kinds of feedback can you offer?

Different kinds of feedback will be better suited for different occasions. There are a couple of techniques that you can use to give effective and relevant feedback to your students.

Whole Class Comments

You might find yourself in a position where you want to give feedback to the class as a whole. A great way of doing this is by using "4 C's". This means:

  • Connections (with the material and previous learning),

  • Clarifications (of concepts and language),

  • Corrections (of mistakes and wrong solutions) and

  • Challenges (to encourage more practice).

Individualized Feedback

At times, you might want to give feedback on an individual basis. This could be at the end of a class, during a one-on-one session, or after reviewing an assignment. In such cases, you would like to make sure that the time spent is worthwhile, so you should ask yourself two questions before giving students specific comments or suggestions:

  • What do I want them to do?

  • What evidence would show that they understood your directions?

How should you deliver your feedback?

Giving praise or criticism is easy, right? You just tell the person what they did well or poorly. The hard part is knowing how to adjust your feedback based on who you are talking to. Different things motivate different people.

Some people are motivated by the desire to learn something new, while others are more interested in doing well on an assignment or on a test.

Some people want praise for their effort, while others want more specific critiques of what they did wrong. For some, it's concrete suggestions about how to improve, while others prefer suggestions for more practice.

Some students will respond better to general comments about the assignment as a whole, while some will be more receptive to suggestions about their individual parts of the assignment.

Similarly, some students will respond better to a detailed critique of their work, while others will appreciate a more high-level discussion of what was done well and what could be improved.

Some students will welcome a detailed discussion of their performance on a test, while others will prefer a general discussion of what went well and what could be improved.

These different responses make it important for you to tailor your feedback based on who you are giving it to.

What kind of feedback do students appreciate the most?

Feedback is the tool of the teacher that allows us to impart knowledge to our students in a way that can be both understood and assimilated into their own thinking. Feedback is one of the most important transactions in the teacher-student relationship, but it's also one of the hardest to get right.

What kind of feedback do students appreciate? The best feedback is specific, relevant, on time, positive, clear, and honest.

But this kind of feedback requires a great deal of skill on the part of the giver — as well as an ongoing relationship with the person receiving it.

You want to make sure your feedback is relevant and meaningful. The comment "Good job," for example — this kind of feedback isn't useful.

A better idea might be something more specific, like "I really liked how you tied the concepts of the reading into your own experiences."

Feedback is essential to student learning

Being an effective teacher does not come easily. It takes a lot of dedication, but by establishing a strong relationship with your students, you can provide them with a sense of safety that encourages them to take risks in your classroom, knowing that you will be there to catch them when they fall.

Being able to give feedback to your students can be essential to their success in school and in life, and is the best way you can help them in your class.

The fact of the matter is that giving effective and useful feedback to students is, in and of itself, hard. It, too, requires a significant amount of work on a teacher’s part. But it’s worth it.

If nothing else, teachers should at least provide their students with feedback at the end of a project or assignment. That way, students know they are seen and heard — that they are important to their teacher and that they are not invisible.

So keep doing your best to provide your students with helpful, encouraging, informative feedback — and know that you play a useful position in their lives.


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