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By Guest Post • April 13, 2015

How to Give Better Student Feedback

This guest post comes from Patrick Donovan. Patrick is the Technology Integration Specialist in Ames, IA at Ames High School. More on his blog Donovanscience.

The feedback that we give students can have a tremendous impact on their learning, but only if that feedback is effective.

There are a lot of different ways that we can provide feedback to students, but not all help the student in the learning process. Grades and scores do not always help the student continue along a path of learning, but instead almost put up roadblocks. Grades and scores are often like trying to play the children’s game of hot or cold; they do not help the student learn from the feedback, only react to it.  

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For feedback to be effective, there are some things you need to keep in mind. Effective feedback may not look the same to every student, and it shouldn’t if they have different learning needs.

Having said this, there are some things we can do in order to make our feedback as effective as possible.

1.  Feedback should be timely.

Use digital tools to give feedback easily and ensure that we are giving timely feedback to students; we want to ensure they do not have to wait long to find out how they can improve.

The longer it takes for students to get feedback, the less connected they will be to the learning that can take place from our response to their work. Digital tools can allow students to get feedback from their teacher as soon as it is given. 

2.  Feedback should be focused on learning outcomes.

Our feedback needs to be targeted and focused on those learning outcomes we have for our students. We can easily refer back to the outcomes when we are giving feedback in order to help students focus on what is essential.

While we do need to provide basic levels of feedback - correcting spelling and other blatant errors - we have tools to make that quick and easy. I work with a variety of teachers who use a collection of tools that fit them and their students for this purpose. This includes spell checkers, annotations in digital documents, and the use of digital formative assessment tools that give students instant feedback with correct answers on lower level cognitive questions. These resources allow us to cover those basic elements, giving us more time to focus on bigger ideas and learning outcomes.

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3.  Feedback should be easily understood by the student.

Being able to give feedback that can be quickly understood and accessed by the student should lead to improved learning. While we can pose questions to our students to get them to think, we must be making sure our language and topics are ones that they can access and are not outside of their current state of learning.  

4.  Feedback should help the student continue to improve and not impede the learning.

This is where just giving a grade or a score can impede the learning because they do not always encourage a student to continue learning; a grade doesn't always allow students to understand how they can improve. We must make sure we take the time to give feedback that is helpful to our students and not just use the easiest path.  

There are other qualities that we should expect from quality feedback, but they can vary based on content and teacher. Feedback can be one of the most impactful tools we use and we must make sure we are not wasting it by giving feedback that does not help the learning process.

If we were to think back to the best feedback we ever got, those instances where the feedback truly helped us to improve and learn, would that look like what we give to our students? The challenge is to make sure that whatever feedback you give is effective for that student, otherwise they might be better off with no feedback at all.