Giving Student Feedback: 20 Tips To Do It Right

Giving student feedback

It seems as if it was yesterday that I was a young middle school student giving a class presentation on the lifespan of the killer whale.  While I was prepared, I was also horribly nervous.  At the conclusion of my speech I was given verbal feedback from my teacher–in front of the entire class!  Needless to say, it wasn’t glowing.  I remember that feedback to this day because it was negative, defeating and very embarrassing.  

 Despite all of my hard work, my seventh grade teacher ripped my presentation into shreds. I understand now that the teacher was trying to hone my presentation skills, but did he have to do it in front of the entire seventh grade science class? Let’s just say that my speech delivery skills weren’t up to par and because of this experience, I stumbled through many public speeches for a long time afterward.  It really is amazing I went on to become a teacher.

 As teachers, it is essential that we make the process of providing feedback a positive, or at least a neutral, learning experience for the student.

Unfortunately, many students have similar “educational” experiences like mine everyday.  Why is it that some teachers think that giving feedback must be negative and corrective because that is the only way a student will learn?  The only thing I learned from my seventh grade experience was that public speaking, no matter how much I prepared, was bound to be a disaster. 

 As teachers, it is essential that we make the process of providing feedback a positive, or at least a neutral, learning experience for the student.

 So what exactly is feedback?  Feedback is any response from a teacher in regard to a student’s performance or behavior.  It can be verbal, written or gestural. The purpose of feedback in the learning process is to improve a student’s performance- definitely not put a damper on it.  The ultimate goal of feedback is to provide students with an “I can do this” attitude. 

 Sometimes We Have To Dig Deep

 When feedback is predominately negative, studies have shown that it can discourage student effort and achievement (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, Dinham).  Like my experience, the only thing I knew is that I hated public speaking and I would do anything possible to get out of it.  As a teacher, most of the time it is easy to give encouraging, positive feedback.

However, it is in the other times that we have to dig deep to find an appropriate feedback response that will not discourage a student’s learning.  This is where the good teachers, the ones students remember forever in a positive light, separate themselves from the others.

A teacher has the distinct responsibility to nurture a student’s learning and to provide feedback in such a manner that the student does not leave the classroom feeling defeated.  Here you will find 20 ideas and techniques on how to give effective feedback that will leave your students with the feeling they can conquer the world. 

20 Ways to Provide Effective Feedback

1. Feedback should be educative in nature. 

Providing feedback means giving students an explanation of what they are doing correctly AND incorrectly.  However, the focus of the feedback should be based essentially on what the students is doing right.  It is most productive to a student’s learning when they are provided with an explanation and example as to what is accurate and inaccurate about their work.

Use the concept of a “feedback sandwich” to guide your feedback: Compliment, Correct, Compliment.

2. Feedback should be given in a timely manner. 

When feedback is given immediately after showing proof of learning, the student responds positively and remembers the experience about what is being learned in a confident manner.  If we wait too long to give feedback, the moment is lost and the student might not connect the feedback with the action. 

3. Be sensitive to the individual needs of the student.

It is vital that we take into consideration each student individually when giving feedback.  Our classrooms are full of diverse learners.  Some students need to be nudged to achieve at a higher level and other needs to be handled very gently so as not to discourage learning and damage self-esteem. A balance between not wanting to hurt a student’s feelings and providing proper encouragement is essential.

4. Ask the 4 questions.

Studies of effective teaching and learning (Dinham, 2002, 2007a; 2007b) have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work.  Providing answers to the following four questions on a regular basis will help provide quality feedback.  These four questions are also helpful when providing feedback to parents:

  • 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?

5. Feedback should reference a skill or specific knowledge. 

This is when rubrics become a useful tool.  A rubric is an instrument to communicate expectations for an assignment.  Effective rubrics provide students with very specific information about their performance, comparative to an established range of standards. For younger students, try highlighting rubric items that the student is meeting or try using a sticker chart.

6. Give feedback to keep students “on target” for achievement.

Regular ‘check-ins’ with students lets them know where they stand in the classroom and with you.  Utilize the ‘4 questions’ to guide your feedback.

7. Host a one-on-one conference.

Providing a one-on-one meeting with a student is one of the most effective means of providing feedback.  The student will look forward to having the attention and allows the opportunity to ask necessary questions.  A one-on-one conference should be generally optimistic, as this will encourage the student to look forward to the next meeting.

As with all aspects of teaching, this strategy requires good time management.  Try meeting with a student while the other students are working independently.  Time the meetings so that they last no longer than 10 minutes.

8. Feedback can be given verbally, non-verbally or in written form. 

Be sure to keep your frowns in check. It is imperative that we examine our non-verbal cues. Facial expressions and gestures are also means of delivering feedback.  This means that when you hand back that English paper, it is best not to scowl.

9. Concentrate on one ability. 

It makes a far greater impact on the student when only one skill is critiqued versus the entire paper being the focus of everything that is wrong.  For example, when I taught Writer’s Workshop at the elementary level, I would let students know that for that day I was going to be checking on the indentation of paragraphs within their writing.  When I conferenced with a student, that was my focus instead of all the other aspects of their writing.  The next day would feature a new focus.

10. Alternate due dates for your students/classes. 

Utilize this strategy when grading papers or tests. This strategy allows you the necessary time to provide quality, written feedback.  This can also include using a rotation chart for students to conference with at a deeper more meaningful level.  Students will also know when it is their turn to meet with you and are more likely to bring questions of their own to the conference. 

11. Educate students on how to give feedback to each other. 

Model for students what appropriate feedback looks like and sounds like.  As an elementary teacher, we call this ‘peer conferencing’.  Train students to give each other constructive feedback in a way that is positive and helpful.  Encourage students to use post-it notes to record the given feedback.

12. Ask another adult to give feedback. 

The principal at the school I taught at would often volunteer to grade history tests or read student’s writing pieces.  You can imagine how the student’s quality of work increased tenfold!  If the principal is too busy (and most are), invite a ‘guest’ teacher or student teacher to critique work.

13. Have the student take notes. 

During a conference over a test, paper or a general ‘check in’, have the student do the writing while you do the talking. The student can use a notebook to jot down notes as you provide the verbal feedback.

14. Use a notebook to keep track of student progress.

Keep a section of a notebook for each student.  Write daily or weekly, dated comments about each student as necessary.  Keep track of good questions the student asks, behavior issues, areas for improvement, test scores etc.  Of course this requires a lot of essential time management but when it is time to conference with a student or parent, you are ready to go.

15. Return tests, papers or comment cards at the beginning of class.  

Returning papers and tests at the beginning of class, rather than at the end, allows students to ask necessary questions and to hold a relevant discussion.

16. Use Post-It notes.

Sometimes seeing a comment written out is more effective than just hearing it aloud. During independent work time, try writing feedback comments on a post-it note. Place the note on the student’s desk the feedback is meant for.  One of my former students had a difficult time staying on task but he would get frustrated and embarrassed when I called him out on his inattentive behaviors in front of the class.

He would then shut down and refused to do any work because he was mad that I humiliated him.  I resorted to using post-it notes to point out when he was on task or not.  Although it was not the most effective use of my time, it really worked for him.

17. Give genuine praise. 

Students are quick to figure out which teachers use meaningless praise to win approval. If you are constantly telling your students “Good Job” or “Nice Work” then, over time, these words become meaningless.  Make a big deal out of a student’s A+ on that vocabulary test.  If you are thrilled with a student’s recent on-task behaviors, go above and beyond with the encouragement and praise.

Make a phone call home to let mom or dad know how thrilled you are with the student’s behavior. Comments and suggestions within genuine feedback should also be ‘focused, practical and based on an assessment of what the student can do and is capable of achieving’ (Dinham). 

18.  “I noticed….”

 Make an effort to notice a student’s behavior or effort at a task.  For example; “I noticed when you regrouped correctly in the hundreds column, you got the problem right.” “I noticed you arrived on time to class this entire week.”  Acknowledging a student and the efforts they are making goes a long way to positively influence academic performance.

19. Provide a model or example.

Communicate with your students the purpose for an assessment and/or feedback.  Demonstrate to students what you are looking for by giving them an example of what an A+ paper looks like.  Provide a contrast of what a C- paper looks like.  This is especially important at the upper learning levels.

20. Invite students to give YOU feedback.

Remember when you finished a class in college and you were given the chance to ‘grade’ the professor?  How nice was it to finally tell the professor that the reading material was so incredibly boring without worrying about it affecting your grade? Why not let students give you feedback on how you are doing as a teacher?

Make it so that they can do it anonymously. What did they like about your class? What didn’t they like? If they were teaching the class, what would they do differently? What did they learn the most from you as a teacher? If we are open to it, we will quickly learn a few things about ourselves as educators. Remember that feedback goes both ways and as teachers it is wise to never stop improving and honing our skills as teachers.

About

Laura Reynolds is a former fourth grade teacher with a Masters degree in Education from Drake University and a BA degree in Psychology from the University of Iowa. She currently works as an education consultant and curriculum writer. You can find her on @laurareynolds75 and Google+.

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11 Comments on “Giving Student Feedback: 20 Tips To Do It Right

  1. It’s great topic. I have a friend when I was in junior high school who is not quite good in learning. She learns only when she had a desire to learn. She changed after getting accident in the class in which the teacher gave her negative feedback. The teacher directly judged her and say a bad thing. However, the negative feedback encourage her and made her life change.Now the result is she becomes a great students. So, feedback is necessary for the students to encourage and motivate them, but mostly should be positive feedback.

    • I agree, sometimes we just need to be put in our place. However, the individual must be taken in consideration. My 8 year-old daughter will burst into tears when given any negative feedback but my 5 year-old son takes it all in stride. Thanks for you comment! Take care, Laura

  2. As a teacher trainer, giving feedback to trainees’ lessons can be very challenging. Finding the pitch and tone and when to be blunt and when to be sensitive can be hard.

    I enjoyed reading this and will send it as a link to my trainees before the start of my next training course. It will help me, I am sure.
    Thanks for this post.
    Brendan

    • Giving feedback to beginning teachers is a difficult task, to say the least. Hope that some of the tips included will help you with your trainees. Best, Laura

  3. It’s a breath of fresh air to read this article. Advocacy is the first key to giving presentation feedback. The second is to focus on the presenter’s strengths while teaching them new techniques. This builds confidence and helps engage the presenter to more success. The best coaches are the presenters’ biggest fans and they treat them that way. Thanks for writing this.

    -Jason Teteak
    CEO/Founder – Rule the Room

  4. Dear Laura,

    Congratulations on writing such an elaborate description of how positive feedback should be given. I like in particular the fact the you base the process of giving feedback on what the student does right. This helps students build their self-confidence and be motivated to improve their performance because the truth is that all of us need to improve something about our work or ourselves.

    There are other opinions who disagree with the efficiency of positive feedback. Yet, I strongly believe in it and you show so clearly in your post why positive feedback is efficient.

    In Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED talk about “The key to success? Grit”, she mentions that children don’t have the fear of failure. So, I believe it is up to educators and parents to maintain the kids’ enthusiasm and fearless approach to learning.

    • I am a huge proponent of positive reinforcement in the classroom, at ALL grade levels. I was a leaner in the classroom through graduate school (20 years!) and understand how essential the positive feedback was to my success. Although I got plenty of negative feedback, the positive was what motivated me. The negative just made me feel bad about myself. As a mother now, I do my best to give as much encouraging feedback as possible to my littles ones. Thanks for your (positive) feedback! :-)

  5. Great insights, Laura! Your last point is something that all teachers need to be encouraged to do. When students are given the opportunity to provide feedback to teachers, they are generally thoughtful and approach the task with maturity. As a teacher, if you don’t want feedback from your students, maybe it’s time to ask yourself ‘why not?’

  6. Thanks Laura

    I am quite passionate about feedback. I especially liked points 7, 10, 15 & 16 – not because they are necessarily better than others, but because they are specific ideas I haven’t included myself.

    You (and any readers who enjoyed your article, may like to check out a free pdf guide I made on the same topic How To Give Feedback To Students

    Cheers
    Shaun

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