How To Give Specific Feedback That Helps Students Learn
contributed by Justin Chando
Specific learning feedback can change your teaching.
To tell a student ‘great job’ or ‘this needs work’ is a missed opportunity. Everyone loves to hear they did a great job–and perhaps your student really did nail this latest assignment. But the problem with ‘great job’ is this: it’s not specific. There is no indication of what was done that was successful, and no information about how to replicate this success in future projects.
We were recently talking about this example among ourselves at Chalkup as we mulled over the future of feedback and assessment. Following our conversation – in which we came up with our own standards for quality assessment – we read Grant Wiggins’ key characteristics of better feedback. (A classic example and the perfect cap to our discussion.)
We thought it might be interesting to take Wiggin’s list a step further and think through how to make these qualities actionable, asking ourselves what strategies look like for keeping feedback solid across the board.
It is goal-oriented.
I’ve learned that great feedback creates a roadmap for students; it shows them how far they can go in the mastery of a subject or skill by outlining specific places for improvement or highlighting successful behaviors/techniques. Great feedback pushes students to achieve more and it’s specific in helping them do so.
What does goal-oriented, quality learning feedback look like? This doesn’t mean grade obsession. This doesn’t have to be a “let’s get you from a B to an A” scenario (although that’s fine – better to have a goal than not). But to me, goal-oriented feedback is about showing a student what opportunities await as skills are mastered.
It’s about getting excited as a student starts to understand geometry or develop an interest in literature. Instead of ‘good job’ we see “Your second page was particularly strong. Wonder if you’d be interested in talking to the Biology Club about your ideas.” This is an example of quality learning feedback.
It is transparent.
I always appreciated transparency as a student. I didn’t feel like I was guessing. I knew what was expected of me, and it was much easier to process the feedback I received when it was in relation to those expectations set up front.
What does transparent, quality learning feedback look like? Getting a rubric or similar document that outlines the way an instructor is adjudicating work is a step toward creating a transparent system for students. It’s an honest conversation up front. This is what I’m looking for. This is what I care a lot about. This is what I’ll be thinking about when I look at what you’ve created. Take note.
What is communicated is actionable.
Great feedback begs an obvious action/response from a student. It provides a clear course of action for the next time around or outlines a new plan for moving forward. In short: a student should know what to do next; they should never be left guessing based on a teacher’s comments.
What does actionable, quality learning feedback look like? I think to ensure that any feedback is actionable, we just need to ask ourselves the simple question: “Will my student know how to proceed?” Instead of marking an answer incorrect and walking away, actionable feedback refers a student to a resource, chapter, or practice problem to brush up on where they went wrong. Which means…
It should not be confusing, vague, or general.
We never want a student to review feedback on an assignment and then say “what does this mean?” That can’t be good. Quality learning feedback should be accessible to a student–clear and concise, using familiar language from your lesson/classroom.
What does user-friendly, quality learning feedback look like? If you’re using a rubric or similar guide, this is a good starting point. Referring to these assessment points in feedback is one way to make it clear why something was marked the way it was.
More than that, I think we also want to elaborate on the items used in rubric criteria. I say this because I think it’s easy for assessment to become robotic as we recycle the same bullet points on writing a thesis statement or providing evidence in body paragraphs. Yes, we want to have this guiding language to ground feedback and make it easy to approach, but then we want to develop it side-by-side student work.
It is timely.
Sitting on an assignment too long and a student will move his or her focus to new work and new ideas. Ideally, feedback can be provided within a few days of an assignment so a student can digest feedback when the gritty details are still fresh.
What does timely quality learning feedback look like? Timely feedback is providing guidance while the assignment is still fresh in a student’s mind. There isn’t a magic number – three days, or something to that effect – and the duration will likely be dependent on the nature of the assignment.
Peer review methods paired with calendar reminders and/or careful assignment scheduling can serve to help you provide feedback with additional speed.
There is consistency of language, form, and other ‘factors.’
A student looking to master new skills relies heavily on teacher feedback to steer them. When that feedback changes, it’s easy to feel lost and off track. Keeping guidance as consistent as possible allows students and teachers alike to hone in what needs to improve in a student’s work, and focus on making it better and better.
What does consistent feedback look like? Guiding documents for assessment – something like a rubric – is one way to frame your own feedback, providing you a guide to keep it consistent. Reviewing previous assignments to check your own assessment – as well as student progress – is another way to keep feedback focused.
Since learning is a process, great learning feedback is ongoing.
As education technology grows, instructors have more opportunity to connect with students outside of class and offer ongoing support. The way I see it, one of the best ways to give great feedback is to give it often.
What does ongoing feedback look like? It can be weighing in on a discussion thread or sending a student a quick message to follow up on an idea they shared in class – but feedback doesn’t need to be limited to test scores. We can make room for it throughout courses, and we should. With the assistance of digital tools, we have more opportunity for ongoing feedback than we ever had before.
Justin Chando is the Founder and CEO of Chalkup, an intuitive learning management system with expanded capabilities for keeping classrooms connected.
Adapted image attribution flickr user woodleywonderworks; How To Give Students Specific Feedback That Actually Helps Them Learn