Have you ever labored over grading assignments, and find that your students keep making the same mistakes every time, even after you reteach it?
Do you take the time to write thoughtful feedback, only to learn that your students never read any of it?
Are you able to identify where students are struggling, but feel you can’t figure out how to bridge the gap between where they are and where they need to be?
If this is you, then you should reconsider how you give feedback.
It seems so simple, however effective feedback is the most powerful teaching strategy you have. You can deliver the most engaging lessons, have students work on real-world interdisciplinary units, or have solid differentiation techniques, but if you’re not giving them quality and effective feedback, you won’t see any growth.
The difference between feedback and evaluation
Sometimes we think we’re giving feedback when we’re actually offering an evaluation of how a student did. Here’s the difference between the two.
When we give vague feedback or simply say “wrong” or “correct,” we’re evaluating a student’s performance. It’s a general overview of a specific aspect of an assignment, and focuses more on what the student has or hasn’t achieved.
More often than not, your comments are an evaluation of a student’s performance. It’s easier and faster, however it lacks key components that will propel your students forward.
Feedback communicates specific observations and makes a clear connection to a goal. It also provides actionable steps that illustrate how one can improve.
Feedback takes more time and effort, and can often feel like reteaching. That’s because you ARE reteaching, but only specific points. You’re clearing up misconceptions and misunderstandings, and showing students how to fill the gaps in their learning.
Improve your feedback
- It seems like you didn’t study very much/pay attention/care about your grade.
- You’re confusing similes and metaphors. Which signal words indicate the presence of a simile?
Take a look at the evaluation versus the feedback.
- The first one is judgmental. How can a teacher assume this? Studies indicate that students who seem disinterested may in fact be hiding their lack of understanding.
- The second example gives specific observations about possible misconceptions. It also draws attention to how the student can avoid making the same mistake next time.
- You missed a step when solving the equation.
- Your work was correct until the third step. Check again that you have the properly factored out the greatest common factor.
Another example of a missed opportunity!
- Here the evaluation one is vague. What if the student can’t figure out which step they missed? The student will most likely make the same mistake again.
- The feedback points out which step the error occurred without giving the answer or how to solve the problem. The student is still required to go back and check their work.
- This is incorrect/Wrong/Try again.
- This answer is an important detail of the text, but is not the main idea. Which answer option is discussed repeatedly throughout the text and mentioned in the thesis?
Let’s try this again.
- In these examples, the evaluation is a common comment. It’s also unclear and doesn’t help the student improve. How is a student supposed to avoid making that same mistake if they don’t know why their answer is incorrect?
- The feedback addresses not only how the student is close, but also suggests that they examine the text and other answer options more closely.
The keys to better feedback
1) Feedback must be tied to a goal or standard
Do your students know what their current level of proficiency is in the skill you’re assessing? Do they think, “I suck at writing introductions,” when their weakness lies in introducing the topic of their essay?
Students need to know where they’re at so that they know how far they have to go.
- Do they know what they’re aiming for?
- What does a “proficient” introduction look like?
- How can they earn full points when asked to explain how they solved a problem in math?
What does a successful hypothesis look like in science? Often times if students have a mentor text or exemplar of your expectations, they will 1) try to meet those expectations to the best of their ability, and 2) they’ll be able to see your feedback, compare their work to your exemplar, and make the necessary changes.
If a student knows the target and what to aim for, and they’re aware of their level in relation to that target, then it’s so much easier for them to see progress with practice!
2) Feedback must be timely
If you wait too long to give feedback, students will forget the assignment and what their thought processes were. Their motivation to revise greatly diminishes as time passes.
Also, if you only give feedback after you’ve put the grade in the gradebook, then learning from the feedback and revising won’t matter as much to them. They’ll see it as being too late and involving too much effort.
However, if they know that implementing your feedback will directly lead better outcomes, they are more likely to do so.
Think about it: A coach wouldn’t wait until the big game to give feedback to his players. He’d tell them during practice so that they can fix their mistakes before it really counted!
The same concept applies to feedback in relation to grading – you need to catch them before those mistakes become habits.
3) Feedback must have a purpose
Simply telling a student to do better next time or that their essay was good won’t help them in the future. They need feedback that tells them clearly HOW to do better next time. Don’t say, “work harder.” Instead, say, “you need transitions between your paragraphs.”Feedback must be specific and it MUST be actionable. Click To Tweet
The workflow in my classroom looks like this:
- We do a pre-assessment of the standard or skill so that I have baseline data.
- Using that data, I give direct instruction on the skill. I model it and then have the students do an example together in groups. While they’re working together, I go around and listen to their conversations to clear up any misconceptions.
- Students practice the skill on their own. This is their formative assessment. Depending on the format, I give them synchronous feedback (during class), or that same day/evening.
- They take the feedback and apply it to a new instance of that standard or skill (usually a new text or writing prompt), which ends up being the summative assessment.
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