4 Tips for Meaningful Student Feedback

It’s the time of year when we have a nice, long span until Spring Break and we can really hit a productive stride with our classes. At the same time, high-stakes assessments are feeling a lot closer and the pressure is on to make as much progress as possible with every single student.  One powerful way to move our students forward during this peak time is through individualized feedback.  Don’t panic, though – if you are imagining working one-on-one with every student or spending hours writing comments on papers, that’s not what I mean.  When done strategically, it can actually save you time and be exponentially more impactful. 

Keep it short.  I spent many years marking every grammar error and writing out every suggestion I could think of for any writing assignment.  It seems like it would be so helpful, but looking back it was a huge waste of time.  Unfortunately, students don’t learn much from reading our comments.  And more often than not it’s just demoralizing and overwhelming to see so many marks and writing on their paper – they don’t know where to begin.  I got the best results when I stopped fixing all the grammar errors and just honed in on the one or two main things I wanted them to remember.  It was stressful at first because I often felt there were so many other things they needed to work on, but they can’t do everything at once, anyway, so I just had to be patient and layer on the next skill when they were ready.

Find the positives.  Don’t forget to identify as many things as possible that they are doing well.  This is true not only for written work, but any assignment. Often people don’t know what they’re really good at, so we need to tell them specifically what they are doing well so they don’t stop doing it.  And with praise, you can never have too much.  The better they feel about the task, the harder they’ll work to make it even better, so slather it on.  And even 12th graders like stickers and such, so don’t be shy with those, either!

Avoid questions.  Often we want to ask questions in our written feedback like, ‘Does this answer make sense?’ ‘How could you make this opening more exciting?’ or ‘How does this prove your thesis?’  Questions like this are great when you’re meeting with a student, but not as written feedback.  If they knew the answer to your question, they would have done it to begin with.  Instead, offer clear statements like, ‘Include more action verbs to make the opening more exciting’ or ‘You need another sentence here that explains how this evidence proves your thesis.’ 

Give a clear call-to-action.  Again, this is not just true for writing, but any important assessment.  Summarize your feedback as a call-to-action, focusing on 1-2 positives and 1-2 areas for growth.  This way they have something to latch onto when they look over their paper, besides just the grade.  It’s important to remember that calls-to-action aren’t descriptive, but action-oriented to prompt the students what to do.  For example, ‘You set up every problem in a really organized way – keep doing that!  It’s a great strategy & will help you as the problems get more complex…Next time, build on this organization by writing out the formula for yourself before you start working.  On 2 questions, an incorrect formula was the only error. Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen next time.’

What other strategies do you use for student feedback?  Include your additions in the comments.

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