Feedback, if given properly, can have a transformative effect on student writing, leading to greater sense of self-efficacy and engagement with writing and ultimately, improved skills. Well-executed feedback helps students assess their own work and become independent, critical thinkers. But, if feedback is poorly delivered, students can shut down and disengage from learning.
At Turnitin, we are interested in how feedback affects the writing process so we’ve pulled together a Top Ten list from what academic research says makes a teacher’s feedback effective and constructive for students.
1. Set clear, concrete learning objectives. Measure student progress through simple, direct criteria.
Research by Sadler (1989) confirmed that feedback should give students information they can act on to improve their current performance. Clearly define what improvement means, and make sure you both share this understanding. Use exemplars to demonstrate what each skill level, or level of improvement, should look like. Remember to use simple language to describe the criteria you are using to measure improvement. Rubrics work well here because they are easy to understand and refer to throughout writing.
Keep goals achievable, yet challenging enough to increase engagement with the task. Making them too difficult will frustrate students. Goals that are too simple, risk conveying that the extra effort isn’t warranted (Sadler, 1989).
2. Feedback should always focus on the task at hand; not on the learner.
Avoid giving evaluative feedback that judges the learner personally, since this will distract students from the task at hand. Also, avoid giving grades simultaneously with feedback, because grades do not show students how to build their skills (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Shute, 2007; Brookhart, 2008).
3. Highlight what a student did well, along with what they need to improve upon.
Informing your students of their successes will motivate them, contribute to their self-esteem, and will give them information they can use to improve (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Suggest to your students how they can apply what they did right to the areas that need work so they are encouraged to keep revising and practicing.
4. Feedback should be guiding and directional. Don’t do their work for them.
Telling students exactly what to do takes away from them the opportunity to think about what they did, how far away they are from the learning goal, and what to do next to get there (Brookhart, 2008). Feedback needs to guide students so they can continue to reflect and practice, not give them all the answers.
5. Increase self-efficacy by emphasizing your students’ feelings of ownership.
Feedback offers a chance to get your students to think about the process of writing itself, and how they are in control of it (Brookhart, 2008). Encourage your students to focus on the goal of learning and mastering skills, rather than on getting good grades. Remind them that success happens only with dedicated effort and by not being afraid to make mistakes (Shute, 2007).
6. Tailor feedback for each individual student.
Differentiating your feedback is extremely important because all students need different information to enhance their skills. Personally crafted feedback lets a student know that she is valued. One time-saving tip: discuss misconceptions that are common among your students with the class as a whole (Brookhart, 2008).
7. Prioritize. No more than three comments, please.
You can’t address everything. Limit feedback to the information which promises the greatest improvement. Focus on substantial, goal-relevant tasks and avoid pointing out superficial mistakes. Lunsford (1997) recommends providing three well-thought-out comments.
8. Be specific and clear.
Vague comments can frustrate students. Broad, general feedback does not provide actionable information and takes much more processing power to decipher (Shute, 2007).
9. Timing is everything.
Deliver your comments as often as possible. Students need feedback when their learning goals are still present in mind and when they have an opportunity to act upon it (Brookhart, 2008).
10. Feedback should teach students how to assess themselves.
Ultimately, feedback should help students develop their own skills of self-assessment and critique. In fact, some researchers believe that teachers should specifically teacher their students how to give feedback to themselves (Black and William, 2001; Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).
Encourage your students to think of feedback as an iterative process; part of the broader dialogue you have with them about their writing (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).
As their experience with self-reflection deepens, they’ll do it more often. They’ll learn how to constantly assess their work according to learning criteria and goals, which will lead to increased revision (Andrade and Du, 2007). As students become more capable of giving feedback to themselves, they will have a more successful and fulfilling learning experience.
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