Providing meaningful written feedback on students’ work can be a time-consuming process… but it’s also highly beneficial to the student. However, in order to receive the full benefit, it’s vital that they themselves take the time to give thoughtful consideration to what you’ve said. In so doing, they’ll deepen their understanding of your course’s concepts and improve their chances for greater success at later points in the course (and their education as a whole).

Want some suggestions for enabling students to maximize the value of the written feedback you’ve offered on their exams, papers, and projects? In a chapter from McKeachie’s Teaching Tips by Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie, David Nicol offers several ideas you can use to help students make the most of your responses to their work. We’ve summarized them below:

  • Aggregate all comments into one document, then distribute it to the class. This may require some additional upfront work, if you don’t have a software program that allows you to store and retrieve the comments in one place as you go. However, some programs do allow you to save and access comments. One suggestion: If you don’t have this software, consider typing or copying & pasting your comments into one word-processing document as you go. (And just a reminder: before you share your feedback with the class, make sure that directly refers to a particular student, including a name, is removed.)
  • Try an in-class activity that prompts students to reflect on and respond to the feedback. As an example, Nicol suggests that “…students might be asked to select from the collated list the comments that they consider most relevant to their assignment and to say how they might act on them.” (121)
  • Encourage students to review the comments in their study groups. During this time, students can discuss and review their own work, as well as the broader selection of comments, in a smaller setting. If this is done in addition to an in-class review, this offers another opportunity to reinforce learning.
  • Save the compilations for use as a study tool for subsequent courses. The feedback you’ve given to one class can help the next class of students as well. Distribute your “archived” comments and feedback, and have students consider and discuss your points as described above. As they think about and process what’s been said, they can learn to reflect more critically and deeply on their own work. Bonus: you didn’t have to create a new tool to help them build those critical-thinking and analytical skills! (120-121)

How do you help students maximize the value of the written feedback you provide? Share your own tips and ideas in the comments.


Reference: Nicol, David. 2014. “Good Designs for Written Feedback for Students.” In Marilla Svinicki and Wilbert J. McKeachie’s McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.