When I was in grade four I had a teacher tell me that I would have to work very hard if I wanted to be a writer when I grew up because my writing wasn’t very good. That tiny sentence, said in passing one day after I’d shared a story I wrote on my own, has stuck with me for all these years. The feedback you give to students sticks with them, even when you don’t think it will. You need to make sure your feedback helps them become better students and guides them without being ultra-judgy and destroying their self-esteem. This can be a challenging task (especially when we’re overwhelmed with things to get done). Keep reading to find out how you can master the art of giving students feedback.
This the reason I cringe when I hear some teachers give feedback is because it immediately takes me back to that classroom where all the pride I had about writing a whole story on my own became soul-crushing defeat and nothing would ever measure up. I truly believe I became a writer just to show that teacher I would.
You have to give feedback the right way because the wrong way can actually damage your students (even without you meaning it to).
You’ve probably been giving feedback wrong. In fact, you might even dread giving students feedback because it takes up so much of your time coming up with what to say. Well, that’s probably because you’re the one thinking about the feedback. But if you’re reflecting on the work more than the student, what is the point of the feedback? Let’s look at changing the type of feedback you give, adjusting when you give it, encouraging others to give it and understand why quality feedback is important.
Feedback Should Encourage Growth
Honestly, we were doing this wrong for years. “You did a great job.” Um, that tells us absolutely nothing about how to improve. Feedback should encourage the student to reflect on their work and then think of ways to improve it-guided by the teacher who can teach them more and more ways to improve, refine skills and do things “better.”
We have a set of Feedback Starter Prompts available as a poster set which we use to help our students give each other quality feedback.
There are generally a few different types of feedback.
Judgment: This is good/bad. Honestly, what student uses this to learn from. Nobody wants to take any feedback from someone who it just plain old judgy. It’s not helpful and while it can occasionally be used to boost a student’s confidence, it’s not useful in the classroom. It sounds like “You did a good job of using quotation marks.”
All About Me: Do you give feedback that starts with “This reminds me of when I…” What is your student really going to gain from that? While it might help build a relationship, it’s not helping the student learn. Use it sparingly. The feedback should be about the student, not you.
Statement: This is a statement about what has or has not been done. An example would be, “You used capital letters.” While it might be encouraging (especially if this student has been struggling with capitalization), it’s not especially reflective. It doesn’t encourage the student to change anything (good or bad).
The Thinker: This is our favourite. We ask a question that makes the student think about the answer. This way the student reflects and has to think and sometimes it even helps up better understand why a student wrote/did something. They get a chance to talk about themselves-what student doesn’t love that?
We use prompts to guide feedback.
Over the years we’ve collected and refined these prompts and we use them all the time. You can get these in our Feedback Notes resource found in our resource library. Sign up for our email list to get regular tips and you’ll also get unlimited access to our Resource Library. Some of the prompts only work for specific situations or types of tasks.
- What did you learn about _________________ while working on this (project, assignment, task, etc.)?
- If you had more time to work on this (project, assignment, task, etc.) what would you (change, add, create, remove, improve)?
- What surprised you most when you researched __________________?
- If someone was doing this project, what do you think they would need to know before they started?
- What advice would you give to someone doing this (project, assignment, task, etc.)?
- What was the most difficult/challenging part of this (project, assignment, task, etc.)?
- What part of this (project, assignment, task, etc.) are you most proud of?
- How has doing this (project, assignment, task, etc.) changed your views of/about _________________________?
- What did you find most interesting about ____________________?
- Now that you’ve done _______________, what do you think you’ll research/work on/learn about next?
- Explain why you chose to __________________.
- Can you tell me more about _______________________?
These are also available as a poster set that comes in colour or ink-saving versions.
Don’t Leave Feedback for the End
When to give feedback is just as important as what you say. If you give students feedback after they finish their work, all you’re doing is giving them a comment, but they can’t use that feedback to improve their current work-it’s already done.
Most students don’t take that feedback and apply it to new assignments. Give feedback to students AS THEY ARE WORKING, so they can apply that feedback immediately and change the trajectory of their work.
Don’t wait until the work is all done and then expect students to change their work. Why do it twice? Conference with students about longer projects as they move through each stage and give them individual attention.
Talk with students and ask them questions-don’t tell them HOW to do something on their work, but show them examples they can use to modify and improve their work. Maybe even throw in a mini-lesson mid-project if you have a few students struggling with the same thing.
Teach Your Students to Give Feedback
There is only one of you, so if you’re students are waiting for feedback from you, they’re going to have to wait. If you have your students giving quality feedback you have just outsourced twenty-five (dream class size) feedback comments in a few minutes. We use the prompts as an anchor chart in our class until we know them well enough and they almost become like a routine in our classroom after presentations.
Ninja Note: One of our biggest pet peeves is “Two Starts and Wish.” In fact, my skin is crawling just writing about it. Basically the concept is that a student present something to the class and then the classmates “give feedback” by telling the present two things they liked and one thing
they wish they’d done better. First off, the feedback isn’t any good because it’s all judgy, judgy. Depending on who’s giving the feedback, the presenter either ignores it or feels idolized (or horrible) because it becomes a popularity contest.
Giving the presenter questions that require reflection and honesty, turns the tables so the presenter has the power of what they choose to answer.
Some of the best feedback has been giving by students to students when doing critical thinking challenges. Not sure what those are? Read this blog post What About Critical Thinking Challenges?
Why is feedback so important?
Well, you’re a teacher. Your whole job means you are molding these little people into creative, thoughtful thinkers who can learn all kinds of amazing things because you inspire them to do so. Feedback is important to them. They need your input. Remember, whether the feedback is positive or negative, it will impact them so choose your words (and watch your facial expressions) carefully and thoughtfully.
Not only do you want students to use the feedback you give to push them forward in their learning, you want them to learn that taking and using feedback is a valuable life skill that will help them throughout their lives whether they continue their education or learn on the job.
So, back to that teacher who told me I wouldn’t be a writer. She was my least favourite teacher ever, but luckily I had two teachers in the two following school years that not only encouraged my writing, they actively assisted me in improving. They encouraged me and they still cheer me on!
Change how your students ask for feedback.
Recently a teacher told me a story about how her class. When her students say “Is this good?” She replies jokingly and sarcastically with “no, it’s horrible,” or “oh, I can’t even.”
Then she explained she is teaching her students to ask better questions to get better feedback. Her students now ask questions like, “I’m working getting the punctuation right with quotation marks. Have I used them correctly here?”
I was blown away. These are nine-year-olds asking these questions.
And if you’re impressed by the questions they ask, you should hear the feedback. I was lucky enough to join her for an afternoon. She was having a “feedback fair” with her class. Students selected items they were currently working on. Some were stories, some were projects and some were things like art assignments.
Every student was given a pad of sticky notes. Their job for about half an hour was to go around the room looking at the different things from various students to give feedback. Sometimes it was specific based on what the person was looking for or the type of projects. Sometimes they were questions for reflection.
It was amazing! After thirty minutes every student had a handful of useful feedback they could use to work on their projects. They took that feedback and got back to work incorporating some of the feedback as they went. By the time they finished their projects they’d done this activity a few times and the finish products were amazing because students got plenty of feedback as they worked.
Best of all, their teacher didn’t have to come up with “comments” about the projects when they were finished. Students handed in their projects with all the feedback from the feedback fairs and the teacher compared to see what they had improved as they’d worked.
Long story short, don’t wait until students have finished to give them feedback. Conference with them while they are working and encourage students to get feedback from each other as they work on projects. This is what we do as adults, so it shouldn’t be surprising when students are learning. Your students will surprise you with the types of feedback they give.
Did we miss something related to giving students feedback? Be sure to let us know what has worked for you, or what you have more questions about. Each time we work with a new group of students, we learn a little more about giving them feedback and teaching them to give each other quality feedback, too.
Leave us a comment with your thoughts.