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Providing Feedback to Students on Formative Assessments

WHAT TO FEEDBACK ON AND HOW MUCH TO FEEDBACK

The fundamental question we have to ask in providing feedback is “what are my learner’s needs?” If you are marking a formative assessment/assignment and you know who has submitted the assignment, a good starting point is to recap your students’ learning needs. For instance, some students need help in articulating their ideas- even if they know the concepts.  So observe your students, be familiar with them and their learning process and know what their needs are. Only then can you tailor meaningful feedback to your students. I know of colleagues who had a profile of each student – what sort of help the students needed, what their marks were in each assignment etc- all compiled in one excel sheet. Keeping track helps.

Once you know students’ learning needs and know what to look out for, you can tailor the message you want to deliver to the students. As you read through the students’ assignment, you will start formulating that one thing that you want your students to work on- It could be about improving spelling, it could be about learning how to organize the ideas, it could be about just handing in the work on time- You will have that one message to bring across to each student. And you know what- that is probably what is needed for a start. Then, you can also see if the student has managed to overcome an earlier challenge or if he/she needs a different kind of support. So in this case, the feedback could be seen as continuation of the previous feedback.

Now, some students could be way ahead, and you may realize that giving them detailed or extensive feedback is useful. In that case, go ahead and give them a detailed feedback. On the other hand, you may have a student who seems clueless. It may actually be better to meet up with the student in person and discover his/her needs and help him/her in their learning journey.

WHEN TO PROVIDE THE FEEDBACK

Timely feedback is important if we want the feedback to be meaningful. I have discussed this in one my comments earlier.

Giving back a feedback 2 weeks after assignment could mean that the students have forgotten about the assignment.  The longer we take to hand back the feedback, the likely chance that students could be more distant to the assignment. Hence the feedback may not be helpful when it is after an extended period of time. If there is an opportunity to discuss the feedback with the students, it would be even better. We could start with those who really need the help or who seem to be proactive in reaching out and seeking help.

Another aspect of promptness could be in the way we give/write down the feedback. We don’t need to wait till the end of the assignment to give a feedback summary. We could give the feedback in the margins as we mark. This immediacy in feedback will help students to learn as they scroll through the marked assignment.

HOW TO PROVIDE THE FEEDBACK?

One last question we will discuss today is how to provide the feedback- should we be honest? And tell the student that the work was bad? Well, we should be honest- but we do not have to be brutal. Telling the student that the work was bad does not help the student- It does not motivate the student. And it does not bring the student to the next level. If the student had known how to work on what he had to, he/she would have most likely done that already! If  we as teachers think that the issue is that of attitude, then that is what we should be working on (and not the assignment).

Telling the student to change the attitude is probably not going to be as effective as understanding the reasons for the attitude. I can hear some saying that “But, it is too time consuming.”  Yes, I agree with you. Hence it is important to identify the real problem/issue in providing feedback. Otherwise it becomes a case of giving the right medicine for the wrong sickness. Also, we need to ask if symptomatic treatment is sufficient or the diagnosis and treatment of root cause is needed. In this process, we may realize that we may not be able to treat the situation at our end!

Now, is it possible to provide a honest feedback that is motivating? My answer will be “yes, if the feedback is objective and in positive tone using encouraging words.” In providing constructive feedback, we can outline what was good, why it was good, what could be improved and how it could be improved, instead of just focusing on what needs to be improved. And remember to focus on the assignment – the feeback is on the assignment – not the student.

One way of packaging the comments is using the sandwich priciple of starting with what was good in the assignment and why, followed by what needs to be improved and how to improved, finishing off with the overall comments in encouraging words.

And yes, even if students had done well, it will be helpful to let the student know why the work was excellent.

So here is a quick summry of the various points discussed in providing feedback.

Before you start

  • Know your students’ learning needs
  • Know what is expected in the assignment – assigment rubrics/ learning outcomes (not mentioned but assumed this to be true)
  • Ensure feedback is timely

As you mark and write your feedback

  • Address student’s learning needs
  • Addess the real issue
  • Focus on the assignment (not the student)
  • Start with one key aspect that needs improvent
  • Provide feedback in context
  • Provide honest feedback
  • Provide objective feedback (outline the strength and the weakness)
  • Explain
  • Show students how to improve
  • Be positive
  • Use Sanwich principle

If you have any other suggestions, do share with us 🙂

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3 Comments

Posted by on June 22, 2011 in Effective teaching, Providing Feedback

 

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