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How to Give Useful Feedback to Your Students

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Providing actionable, compelling, and effective feedback to your students, regardless of their age, ability, or topic, is a pivotal part of being a teacher. Students who receive high-quality feedback often apply it to their future work, whereas weak feedback gets ignored or forgotten about. 

Read on as we present eight ways that you as a teacher can improve the feedback you give and how your students interpret it. 

1. Clarify what good performance looks like so that students are able to benchmark

Student handbooks, department websites, and course guides might explain marking criteria, but do students really absorb that, and isn’t it often written in such a way as to suck the life out of the assignment? It’s your job to explain the criteria, what you’re looking for from your students, and make them familiar with your expectations of them. 

Marking criteria should be something that is openly discussed, debated, and questioned so that students can really get to the root of what they’re being asked. Providing opportunities to look at high-scoring examples and low-scoring examples can give students the benchmarks they need to see where they are at and what they need to do to excel. Exemplary work should be examined, not to encourage plagiarism, but to inspire students to tap into their best selves. 

2. Actionable, constructive, and high-quality information

These are the three things that feedback must offer:

  • Actionable information tells the student what to change about their approach, what things are within their control and the power to change
  • Constructive information helps the students to build upon their skills, highlighting opportunities within their strengths and weaknesses
  • High-quality information gives them the details that they cannot see for themselves and applies the criteria to the feedback to show how the assessment could have been better met

You don’t want students who are continually dependent on your feedback, rather, you want to help them develop into self-aware, self-editing, and self-regulating learners who can make their own judgments about their work. This can only be done if you give them a solid foundation for feedback. If they’ve never seen or heard good feedback, how can they be expected to help themselves? Order your feedback by weight of importance too, helping the students reach the low-hanging fruit first.

3. Feedback is not only written in reports, it’s continuous

It’s a mistake to think that feedback is simply written or published in reflection of a piece of work. In truth, feedback is happening with almost every informational transaction between you and your students. It happens during class, through emails, in private office hours, and of course, after an assignment. There are so many opportunities to give good quality feedback, but it’s your responsibility to remind the students that what you say to them is just as important as what you write to them. 

To get this point across, at the start of term you should ask your students ‘What is feedback?’ and let them discover for themselves that grading and annotations are just a small part of it. They can set their expectations of feedback, what purpose it offers, and how they want to receive it. You can remind them that feedback doesn’t need to come from you, they can create a feedback loop with themselves by finding novel ways to test their own abilities. 

4. Give feedback as soon as possible, while it’s still fresh

Would you rather have feedback now, or in one month? What good is feedback in a month when you’re trying to improve now? Of course, you can’t give immediate written feedback on a huge essay for two dozen students, it’s not realistic. However, you can give group feedback about how you think they handled the project, and that feedback can be constructive or motivational, whichever you decide. 

Immediate feedback responds much more effectively with the human brain than delayed feedback, which quickly becomes detached from the work it did in the past. Immediate feedback also helps with comprehension of difficult subjects and tasks. 

5. Accept and acknowledge the immediate goals of the students

In other words - get to know your students. They don’t all set the bar in the same place. If teaching teenagers, some might be preparing for university and others to work in the family business. When teaching professionals, some might be gunning for a hot promotion, whereas others simply want improved skills so they can do their job with less stress. If you can take the time to appreciate what each student wants, it can greatly help the quality and utility of your feedback and how they use it to make progress.

6. Make the student feel safe

Your students need to feel protected, that they can be themselves without harsh judgement or criticism and that you want them to do well. Sometimes, students are their harshest critics, and a piece of negative feedback or a bad grade can amplify their worst beliefs about themselves. 

It’s not your job as an educator to give good grades and feedback simply to make people feel good. It is your job to make them feel safe, improved, empowered and supported. They need to know that bad feedback isn’t punishment or something shameful, it’s an opportunity. 

7. Ask questions that guide, not instruct or expect

Few teachers have all the answers. You’re only human. You might, however, have all the questions, and those questions come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. 

For example, you could ask your students ‘which do you think is the best form of renewable energy?’ and allow them to present all of the options, before asking them to debate why. If, instead, you say ‘Why is Solar better than Windpower?’, you might get a different response. You can guide your students in the right direction with work, just as much as you can with feedback. 

Encourage your students to solve problems for themselves through feedback. Help them to become self-aware and guide them past the places where they are getting stuck. Probe their curiosities and goals too. Ask if there are other approaches they could have taken, whether they agree with things, and what they think, independent of the learning material. The student will give you feedback too, through their body language and non-verbal communication. 

8. Use a business simulation 

One of the great features of business simulations is the fact that they can provide immediate, meaningful and unbiased feedback to your students.

There are two forms of feedback that users can receive through a simulation. Firstly, they learn through the consequences of the decisions they make in the simulation itself and gain valuable insights by seeing the direct impact of their actions. Secondly, feedback comes through the debrief, which is automatically generated by the simulation.  For example, you can track activity not only about their results, but also about the frequency and quality of their interactions during the simulation. You can use this information to assess and guide your learners, and tie in learning points from your lessons. 

You can also foster peer feedback by having students assess each other throughout the simulation experience. This all plays together to create meaningful feedback that students can take with them in their professional careers.

Concluding thoughts

Just by being here, reading this piece, you are clearly working on your own teaching skills, and that’s commendable. You are seeking feedback for yourself, and that’s a great place to start. Now it's time to take action and put some of these tips into practice in your classroom. We are here to help you in your journey with engaging learning and assessment tools that will make an impact in your teaching. Request a free instructor demo today to find out more. 

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