The Poison in One Line Comments/Feedback

13 Jun

As a student, how many of us have gotten back compositions or assignments with red underlines and just the marks, with minimal comments such as “Needs improvement” or “Could have done better” or “Great job”.

I am sure that many of us would have received such comments. And what do we normally do? Take a look at the marks and comments, purse our lips and file the paper. And the same routine will be repeated for the next assignment.

But wait! What is the purpose of the red underlines? What is the purpose of the grades? Why are we going through this routine?

Students need to ask themselves why they are getting what they are getting and most importantly, teachers would have to ask the same too- but slightly rephrased. What is the purpose of drawing the red underlines? What is the purpose of giving some grades? The answer is that “we want our students to learn.” Fair enough.

But  it is not enough to just say, “Needs improvement” or  “Could have done better” or “Great job”. We need to actually help the student realize what he/she needs to improve and how to improve. If we as teachers are not able to articulate what is needed to be improved in our students’ work, how can we expect our students to know it on their own?

It is imperative that we not only help our students identify what is wrong with their work , but that we also help them understand how they could improve their work. On the other hand, it is also essential to help our students understand what they had done well and why.

Next post, we will see some strategies to provide useful feedback.


Posted by on June 13, 2011 in Effective teaching, Providing Feedback


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5 responses to “The Poison in One Line Comments/Feedback

  1. languagetutor1

    June 14, 2011 at 5:44 am

    I agree with you that students need more than just a “Good job!” on their papers. I look forward to reading about some strategies we can use instead :).

  2. docstu

    June 28, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    You are right!!! Feedback is so important in the growth of students but vague comments mean nothing. We have an obligation to be specific. How about the teachers that bleed all over the page with the bold red pen again to only say need improvement.
    The other issue that comes to mind especially in middle school and high school where the student doesn’t have the confidence to ask the teacher to explain. On the university level most students will questions but no always with freshman. Can’t wait for the other post.

    • learnr

      June 29, 2011 at 7:54 am

      Absolutely! I agree with you that students may not have the confidence to speak up. I think schools and universities will have to take the initiative to ensure that proper systems and processes are in place to ensure that prompt and useful feedback is given. Sometimes school students are asked to do so many assignments- for instance, I know that typically high school students ( in the context familiar to me) write some 10-15 compositions a year. And you know what, the only feedback will be something like content- 5/10, language 5/10! :-(. And this repeats year after year. How in the world will the students learn? All that the teacher needs to do is give lesser number of compositions, say 4-5 per year and ensure that each student gets rich feedback such that they learn from compo to another. That is it.

  3. docstu

    July 8, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Maybe this is where the term less is more comes in. On the high school level do you think the sols play a role in this problem?

    • learnr

      November 12, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      what are sols?


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