In a recent discussion with teachers in a workshop the question of how to give feedback came up. It was not so much about "how do I tell my student what they need to work on" but more of "if you want me giving feedback all the time where am I going to find the time?" This is an important question and one we are going to have to figure out. Giving feedback does take time. If you have nine students the time is manageable, if you have 60 you can quickly get buried.
Try to link your feedback to your scoring criteria or work expectations. Students can be pragmatic about their work so they are looking on how to improve their work on the assignment.
- takes the long view,
- does not try to "fix",
- is selective and focused,
- says both what is going well and what needs to be worked on.
Taking the long view means looking feedback as a growth model for learners not a one off event connected to a specific assignment. You may to choose to come back to broader issues students are working on as opposed to something you want them to fix right now. For me it was often issues of organization, clarity or focus. They were always my first gate. I decided that those areas were the most important in my social studies class so not only did I do direct instruction and spell them out in my scoring criterial I also targeted my feedback on them. Once I knew who my learners were I knew generally who was going to get feedback on one of those areas. We often link feedback to formative assessment but I think it has its place in summative assessment. I would usually focus on one or two areas that I knew I would come back to and phrase my feedback as "The next time you site sources I want you to try..." This kind of feedback often helped me plan future mini lessons if I found myself writing the same thing over and over again.
Do not confuse feedback with editing or fixing. For some students it is easy to make their papers bleed with revisions. When teachers try to fix student work is when they start feeling overwhelmed by the amount of feedback they need to give. Fixing also makes students passive learners. Pose questions or suggest directions. Some students might need more pointed direction and others may need to think more. Plan the areas you want to work on and then stick to it. For me topic sentences were a reoccurring nightmare. I often wrote this feedback "Topic sentences tell the reader what your paragraph is going to be about. Read your paragraph. Does your topic sentence match what you wrote about? What needs to change?" For a student like that I might only make one other recommendation for change.
Choose your work. On any given piece of student work your could give plenty of advice. Think longterm. What do I want this student to really improve on. Select only 2-3 areas and comment only on them. Actively note other areas but leave them alone. Maybe you can get at these in other ways. If enough students are struggling with the same thing then consider planning a mini lesson and then not write it out as feedback. Remember feedback works on a growth model. No one can grow everywhere at the same time. Students need to work on a few discrete skills or approaches.
We all need to know what is working. So much of the feedback advice I read says give positive feedback to sugar coat the negative. If you think about feedback as a growth model then positives tell the learner what to keep or what they are making progress on. "This topic sentence much clearer now. I can see the link between it an what is in your paragraph. Keep doing that!" Some colleagues use the "two stars and a wish" guideline. Whichever way you choose to balance your feedback keep in mind the first 3 principles and do not over do it.
To put a finer point on my 4 principles effective feedback shares come characteristics.
I have worked with a number of different groups of teachers over the years. We always spend time talking about feedback. What works and is effective and what is not. The lists these groups have come up with are remarkably stable.
- Well intentioned
A simple Google search gives you plenty of tips
- Be specific
- Be timely
- Address the learner's advancement toward a goal
- Give it carefully
- Involve the learner
I like how these folks from New Zealand describe Effective Feedback in schools.