Everyone needs guidance from someone more experienced to do their best work. Nowhere is that dynamic more important—or more embedded—than in the classroom. Feedback informs students on how they’re progressing in their learning, and when well-communicated in a good classroom environment, can generate student motivation and engagement.
What are the benefits of feedback for students?
Feedback in the classroom has two levels of importance. The first is obvious—students, by definition, require guidance on their progression through their classes. Feedback lets students know if they’re developing the skills and gaining the knowledge expected of them and shows students where they can improve and how.
The second level is more meta—good feedback can improve student performance not just on the task at hand, but overall. It can bolster students’ motivation for future learning, develop their confidence in their ability to learn and improve, and encourage engagement. It leads to better goal setting, task planning and a higher level of self-regulated learning. High-quality feedback leads to better learners.
How can I make sure my feedback is received?
The first step to providing good feedback is creating an environment where the feedback will be well-received. At first glance, delivering feedback in the form of mostly praise seems like the best option. However, this is ultimately unhelpful, as it is insufficient in providing real, genuine critique.
According to John Hattie and Gregory Yates, students are most receptive and responsive to feedback when they’ve been told and shown that struggling and even occasionally failing are normal steps in the learning process. If a classroom environment is one where struggling is a mark of failure, feedback becomes a personal critique. That can lead a student to doubt their capability. When you acknowledge that struggling is normal and students feel that you respect their good-faith attempts regardless of outcome, a student can more readily accept feedback as a commentary on their work instead of on their capacity as a learner.
What constitutes good feedback for students?
You’ve created an environment where students are ready for feedback. How do you give effective feedback that will bolster students’ learning moving forward?
Hattie and Yates suggest answering three questions to help frame your feedback:
1. Where is the student going?
Having a clear and attainable goal is important for both the teacher and the student. The student should know what success looks like before they start their project so they can both direct their efforts and understand their instructor’s feedback.
2. How is the student getting on right now?
When writing feedback, craft it with the preset goal in mind. Feedback on a project should revolve around the student’s progress in attaining this goal. Address success and progress, so the student knows what they need to accomplish and where they’re improving, as well as the specific areas where they need to improve further to reach the defined goal.
3. What is the next step?
Feedback shouldn’t only address where students fell short on this attempt—assume there will be future attempts to attain the preset goal and address how students can move forward.
Other helpful guidance for giving good feedback
- Be specific: instead of vague comments like “Well done!” or “Almost there,” state what the student did well or where they fell short.
- Make it individual: Hattie and Yates find that group feedback is rarely effective—many students let their attention drift, either because they’ve achieved the goal and the feedback doesn’t apply to them, or because there are other, more pressing stressors in their life than generic feedback.
- Be descriptive instead of prescriptive: when possible, feedback should tend toward observation of performance rather than a prescription of what to do next time. This allows room for the student to take responsibility for how to implement feedback.
- Invite a two-way conversation: if good feedback is focused on renewed attempts to achieve a goal, students should feel empowered to ask questions and seek guidance on implementing the feedback you give them. And don’t be afraid to ask students what kind of feedback they’d find helpful.
Some pitfalls to avoid
- Grade-focused feedback: it’s impossible to completely do away with graded marks, but where possible, focus on descriptive feedback to encourage students in renewed attempts.
- Inter-student competition or comparison: highly competitive classrooms damage student motivation. Compare students’ work and achievement to their own previous work.
- Extrinsic rewards: extrinsic rewards increase the inter-student competition described above and the need for teacher surveillance.
With good, quality feedback, students’ performance and engagement improves—better feedback makes better learners!
Effective feedback helps to foster a growth mindset. Check out our infographic to learn the differences between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset.