Feedback2019-06-06T19:15:37+00:00

Feedback

He goes the extra mile to provide useful feedback on every problem of every homework assignment we turn in and still manages to get it back to us on the same day we turn it in more often than not. 

– Georgia Tech Student in CHBE 6500

The ample feedback you provided for each assignment in the course was beneficial to me, as I was able to truly reflect upon my performance on and understanding of each of the subjects taught.

– George Tech Student in LMC 3403

Your thoughtful feedback always made me really strive to do my best on every assignment, and I ended up really learning a lot.

– Georgia Tech Student in ENGL 1102

Instructors who give effective feedback to students aid their learning experience by correcting mistaken understanding, clarifying expectations, and helping students reflect on and improve their performance. Students also appreciate the effort instructors put into giving feedback, and often respond with increased levels of motivation and increased willingness to seek help when struggling.

Boud and Molloy (2013) define feedback in educational settings as the “process whereby learners obtain information about their work in order to appreciate the similarities and differences between [their] work and the instructor’s standards (p. 205). In other words, feedback is a key part of the learning experience for students, as it helps them understand ways in which their work has and has not met the relevant standards.

Price et al. (2010) identified five types or levels of instructional feedback from simple correction of errors to more sophisticated forms of feedback. These levels of feedback operate as a “nested hierarchy” in that each level builds upon the previous one towards more substantial ways of influencing students’ academic behaviors and attitudes towards learning (Price et al., 2010, p. 278).

Higher-level approaches to feedback help students develop sufficient, relevant information about their academic performance that they can apply to future academic work. These approaches also help to positively change their attitudes toward learning. Lower-level strategies help students avoid making the same errors in their work. They promote change in a student’s conceptual knowledge as well as their application of knowledge. (Price et al., 2010)

Note: Click the image below to zoom

Instructor feedback

Feedback is important for students because it can influence academic achievement and student motivation, and it can increase rates of self-reflection (Ryan, Henderson, & Phillips, 2016).

Helpful feedback contributes to learning by (Mulliner & Tucker, 2017):

  1. Clarifying acceptable performance levels.
  2. Delivering quality information to students about their learning.
  3. Facilitating student self-assessment (reflection) of their learning.
  4. Encouraging dialogue between students and between instructors and students.
  5. Building student motivation and self-esteem.
  6. Reducing the gap between students’ current and desired performance.

The feedback process is just as important for instructors as it is for students.  In the process of providing feedback to students, instructors learn the degree to which students have acquired understanding, and how well they are able to apply knowledge or engage in analysis, evaluation, and/or creation, with the tools they have been given in class. Using this insight, instructors can make adjustments to assist students in learning and applying class material (Mulliner & Tucker, 2017; Nicol, 2010; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2006).

Students expect feedback to assist them in the learning process. However, students’ responses to feedback can range from ignoring it, to reading feedback and making no changes in their work, making superficial changes in response to comments, or implementing feedback to make substantial, positive changes. When students perceive that feedback is helpful, they are more likely to carefully consider it and make changes in response (Evans, 2013; Butler and Winne, 1995; Jonsson, 2013; Molloy, 2013; Mulliner &Tucker, 2017; Nash & Winstone, 2017; Ryan, Henderson, & Phillips, 2016; Shute, 2008; Zimbardi et al., 2017).

Students View of Feedback from Teaching Assistants and Peers

Some instructors use teaching assistants and/or peers to provide feedback on their work. Students tend to see TA and peer feedback as more readily understandable than what they receive from instructors, but it is often not quite as helpful as they would like it to be. (Lam, 2010; McGrath, Taylor, Pychyl, 2011; Nicol, Thomson, & Breslin, 2014; Rodgers et al, 2015)

Instructors play a significant role in providing feedback to students about their efforts in gaining new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Instructors report the following perceptions about providing students feedback:

  • When instructors give feedback, their aim is typically to help students learn and to establish a record for reference in case of student grade appeal (Bailey & Garner, 2010).
  • Instructors tend to perceive feedback they provide as timely, extensive and informative (Mulliner & Tucker, 2017).
  • Instructors generally recognize that students do not know how to use the feedback provided to them (Evans, 2013).
  • Some instructors blame students who do not understand feedback and believe the problem lies with their students. Students, in turn, can see these instructors’ feedback as problematic (Boud & Molloy, 2013; Carless, 2006; Shute, 2008).

Strategies for Providing Feedback

All students – even high-performing students – need guidance when it comes to interpreting and responding to feedback on their work. The biggest challenge for many students is in identifying what the feedback instructors have provided means and what their next step should be.

General Explanations about Feedback

If you are teaching a course for first-year students, or an entry-level course in your discipline, you should use some class time to discuss the role of feedback in the learning process and provide guidance for students about how to use the feedback they will receive.  Consider addressing the following questions both verbally and in writing:

  • What is the role of feedback in your class?
  • What type of feedback will students receive?
  • How should students interpret your feedback?
  • What should students do with the feedback provided?
  • What should students do if they are frustrated or confused about the feedback they receive?

A small time investment up front can pay dividends later in the student learning process. (Forsythe & Johnson, 2017; Molloy & Boud, 2014)

Returning Graded Work

When returning graded work it is helpful for students if you take time to explain the following:

  • What your feedback addresses;
  • Why the feedback is important for their learning;
  • How to assess their performance relative to specific criteria;
  • What students should do with the feedback going forward.

In addition, take time to encourage students who are frustrated with feedback on an assignment or uncertain how to proceed by inviting them to visit you during office hours for extra assistance. (Forsythe & Johnson, 2017; Jonsson, 2013; Molloy & Boud, 2014).

The best feedback models how errors should be corrected, and provides a path for improving future performance. It is also important to indicate when a student has done something well so they are also able to continue with those approaches. In addition, aim to provide feedback that is instructive rather than evaluative: this will help keep your student’s focus on their work, rather than taking your comments personally (Berquist & Phillips, 1975; Boud & Molloy, 2013; Evans, 2013; Forsythe & Johnson, 2017; Henderson & Phillips, 2016; Price et al, 2010; Shute, 2008; Wiggins, 2012).

Examples:

  • Highlight changes the student can make to future academic performance.
  • Use descriptive, rather than evaluative language, to describe errors and strengths of student work.
  • Describe specific examples of performance (or academic behavior) as evidence to make your feedback more credible.
  • Use words with neutral to encouraging tones. While there is some debate about the ratio of positive to negative comments provided in feedback, positive comments are as important as negative ones. Positive feedback supports student motivation and self-esteem, but also reinforces with students what they are doing right.
  • Direct comments toward observable behavior or performance rather than the students’ personality or character.
  • Construct your feedback as a dialogue: Feedback should be a dialogue between instructor and students to support the clarification of “meanings, expectations, misconceptions, and future actions” (Evans, 2013, p.82). Feedback should not be a single point of correction, although many students will use feedback in this way.

Providing comments on everything – grammar, students’ ideas, strategies for future performance, etcetera – fails to identify what aspects of the assignment performance are most important. For example, grammar in writing is important, but focusing on grammar instead of students’ ideas will cause students to focus on correcting grammar errors instead of developing their ideas. Feedback should instead focus on the criteria or goals that the assignment was designed to assess. You should also focus on providing suggestions for improvement of future performances.

Consider the following approaches:

  • Emphasize a few main points relative to the assignment goals, learning outcomes, or other criteria.
  • Tailor feedback to the needs of the student and prioritize relevant, manageable aspects that the student can improve upon.
  • Explain “good” comments in your feedback. Telling a student something is “good” without explaining fails to help the student comprehend what he or she has done correctly.
  • Advise students about the next step. This can be advice such as “for the next revision …” or “next time pay attention to …” Giving students positive directions for going forward provides guidance for future work. Also, try to use positive actions verbs (organize, explain, include, remember) instead of telling them.
  • Avoid changing the student’s version. It is tempting as an instructor to “show” the student the right way by rewriting text, but students will learn more if they have to work through the rewriting process, even if it requires multiple attempts.

Feedback clearly explains what is wrong, why it is wrong, and, most importantly, directions for moving forward.  Clear, unambiguous language increases the likelihood of students understanding the feedback and applying it to make positive changes in the future. Keep your feedback as simple and focused as possible, and try to connect your comments to specific parts of the students’ work.

Feedback should be provided as quickly as possible, while the assignment is still familiar to students. This way the feedback they receive will more likely assist them with their performance on future assignments. This may require some planning on your part, in order to protect your time around major assignment due dates, or helping your graders to manage their time well. The faster your students receive feedback on their work, the more likely they are to read it, interpret it well, and apply it to future work.

Scaffolding large class projects provides the opportunity for students to receive and apply feedback along the way, leading to increased learning and a better final product. Multiple feedback opportunities over the course of a project, or essay allow students to make changes based on the feedback. This process reinforces the usefulness of feedback and assists students in developing internal judgment of their progress.

Be sure to provide specific feedback at each stage of the project, focusing on what is most important at that point.  For an initial draft of a research paper, for example, you might focus on helping the student clarify their central argument or thesis statement, and provide probing questions for them to think about going forward. (Molloy & Boud, 2014)

In addition, you may find it useful to give students opportunities to provide feedback to one another, en route to completing major assignments. Peer feedback allows students to gain insight into the feedback process by comparing a peer’s performance on a task to a standard, even if it is only their own.

To maximize the benefits of peer feedback, you will still need to give guidance such as helping students identify relevant criteria for performance when they give feedback (Molloy & Boud, 2014).

Takeaway

Download the following one-page summary of key points on instructor feedback:

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    Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.

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    Zimbardi, K., Colthorpe, K., Dekker, A., Engstrom, C., Bugarcic, A., Worthy, P.,& Long, P. (2017). Are they using my feedback? The extent of students’ feedback use has a large impact on subsequent academic performance. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 42(4), 625-644.