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The Art of Giving Meaningful Feedback

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Giving meaningful feedback to your students is an art and it is another way to keep students engaged in your class. Students need constructive feedback from faculty and instructors to keep on track towards the learning goals. Giving timely and supportive feedback has a crucial role on the students’ learning process as identified by Robert Gagne in his Nine Events of Instruction. In these steps for learning, providing feedback is step number 7, right after presenting content, and providing practice. Ideally, feedback should be given continuously throughout the semester so the students can improve their performance in the class and achieve better the learning goals, but you can also give feedback during a learning activity to reinforce student learning.

If you think about the last time you learned content or a  skill; it was helpful to know how well you grasped the new content or mastered the new skill. Depending on the level of difficulty of the subject matter, students might feel anxious to know if they are on the right track and how far away from the learning goal. Some students might struggle if they do not receive any feedback; that is why it is so important that they receive the feedback they need in order to learn what you are teaching them. Lack of feedback is discouraging for students.

Providing appropriate feedback fosters a mindset that encourages students to improve their work. These four questions might help you write comments to students:  

  • What can the student do?
  • What can’t the student do?
  • How does the student’s work compare with that of others?
  • How can the student do better?

Here are other things you can do to give better feedback:

Be Clear and Concise

Students complain that sometimes they do not understand their instructor’s comments especially when those are too vague or too general. Providing effective feedback means that the instructor’s comments should be specific enough for students to take action about things they should change or improve. For this reason, you might want to give them more than a few words that go beyond praise or criticism and at the same time avoid comments that are too long. Think about what you really want your students to accomplish and select the most important. Maybe they need to revisit some prior knowledge to be able to understand the topics you are teaching, or they should write their assignments in a different format, etc. In any communications with students, use simple words and language to make it student-friendly. 

Give Prompt Feedback

Feedback should be given in a timely manner. Don’t wait too long to give feedback after students turned in an assignment, especially when students approached a task incorrectly and they should change actions to be successful in future assignments. One of the biggest issues in online classes is students not getting enough feedback or if the feedback is given too late in the semester that the students do not have time to correct their performance on the next assignment. Think about a realistic timeline for you to give feedback that is helpful for you and your students and consider giving some automated feedback. In online classes, you might want to give feedback one week after the students turn in assignments.

Tone Matters

There are many different ways to communicate information to your students and you can use a friendly tone even if you need to point out when they did many things incorrectly. You don’t have to tear your students apart in your response when you see their work was not good enough. Some faculty use the sandwich method (positive comments + negative comments + positive comments). The downside is that students might forget or undervalue what you want them to correct; your negative feedback might get lost under all the positive comments. In general, balancing negative feedback with positive comments helps reduce students’ anxiety and it has a positive effect on student engagement. When students receive big amounts of negative feedback, they can get intimidated and some students might get paralized or disappear from your class. Find something positive to say about your students’ work to keep them engaged in the class.

Make it Personal

Students appreciate knowing what they are doing right as well as what they are supposed to improve, but they pay more attention when the feedback is not generic. Personalized feedback is a good way to keep your presence in the online classroom. Instructor presence is linked to student learning, because students appreciate feeling supported by the instructor. You can build a bank with constructive feedback for specific assignments, such as exams or essays and when you use it personalize a few details in your comment.

If you are worried about the time it takes to give feedback to your students, see this other post about Time-Saving Strategies for Providing Feedback in Online Classes.

Featured Photo by Vlad Hilitanu on Unsplash

Belen Garcia is an Instructional Designer in the Hub for Teaching and Learning Resources and you can find out more about her on her author page