Better feedback for students in 7 practical tips

Better feedback for students in 7 practical tips
  • September 04, 2017
  • by Emended

Educational research into feedback shows that comments embracing a specific set of characteristics are more likely to boost student learning. We’ve simplified these characteristics into 7 stand-out tips and will explain for each how Emended helps you get there rather easily.

While there’s more than one effective way to give feedback, some ways are discernibly better than others. When done right, it can be one of the most successful as well as rewarding means of connecting with and helping a student. And what recurring qualities seem to underpin those “better” ways are exactly what we aim to spell out here. Because when you think about it – with all the time teachers put into providing feedback, it’s a no-brainer to make sure it’s done right … every time!

Based on our review of the latest on the subject, here are 7 feedback characteristics education experts the world over have determined to be most developmental in having students motivated, learning, and performing to the best of their abilities. For each characteristic, we’ll also show you how Emended readily lets you put it into action.

1. Consistent

Good feedback is consistent. Consistency means the comments students are getting back on their work are reliable, correct, and clearly communicated while in an unfluctuating, or non-changing, way. If a student, for example, is being reminded of a helpful concept but by two different names and in different instances, the connection that student could make to what he or she has previously learned will go unmade.

In practice, feedback can vary greatly over time and even when from the same person, as quality of feedback is often a product of the real-world circumstances under which it was written. Short or curt? Maybe you had a dozen other essays to grade that night. Sparse in what was commented on? Perhaps a headache had you zapped for energy or focus.

Emended solves problems rooted in inconsistent feedback by letting you save your comments for single-click reuse whenever you need them. As a result, students not only all receive the same comments for the same mistakes, but they get those comments in one tone, style and vocabulary – all from one toolbox, if you will, and regardless of the circumstances under which they were written.

With Emended, the quality of feedback given is equally as consistent. Whatever your day-to-day has in store, Emended ensures teachers like yourself are able quickly and efficiently to highlight and comment on errors in written work without a heavy footprint on rewriting a single comment from scratch.

And this advantage grows by however many colleagues you choose to share it with! That’s because when you share access to the same set(s) of saved comments, you and your colleagues will be able to work from one familiar ‘team standard’ of feedback. The result is students receiving consistent feedback across however many classes, while teachers on a daily basis having more time to focus on other things.

2. Student-friendly

Good feedback is student-friendly. Being student-friendly is synonymous with being readily accessible and for feedback, this means not only cleanly delivered and straightforwardly presented but also able to be relied on for when and how you receive it. How this often plays out in actuality is students receiving feedback across many channels and in just as many conceivable ways – Monday can have a pen-and-paper write-up due whereas Thursday, well, it’s time for that rough-draft submission via email.

When it’s time to check up on teacher comments for any of which, a student’s first consideration should be how they did, not if it’s logging in here and there or arranging pick-up in person at a designated time and place. Seeing comments scattered about a page isn’t a picture of clarity and accessibility either. In a word, why make things harder than they have to be?

Emended tackles these issues by being accessible 24/7 and as simple to log in to as an everyday email account; topping that – how about all your assignments being under one roof and neatly sorted in one place online! Plus, the moment you finish and return your comments, students are actually automatically and instantaneously notified via email that they have your feedback awaiting them. And when students do open their work to view your feedback, they will be presented with an uncluttered, orderly, and easily navigable display showing them comment by comment what they need to be concentrating on.

3. Constructive

Good feedback is constructive. Constructive means the information students get from their teacher is specific, positive, and relatable, but not outright doing the job for them.

For feedback to do its job effectively, it needs to guide students and point to where they need to be looking; with that, helping them figure out what it is they need to be doing differently. Marking and grading assignments often takes the form of either merely marking for mistakes or then error correction outright – that is, without any supporting cues to help them zoom in on what the problem actually is. This self-corrective action a student can take, upon being guided, is why constructive feedback is often referred to as actionable.

Actionable feedback typically requires space to write those constructive comments. In Emended, it’s possible to give detailed comments in your feedback and without ever again worrying over busying the margins or running out of space. The nature of using Emended is also such that having your comments saved for effortless reuse means comments will, by default, be constructive and not subject to how late it is or tired you are. Students will be getting guidance on how to answer their own questions, rather than just the answers.

Feedback with Emended takes being constructive and actionable one step further – you can actually link students in your comments to helpful grammar exercises, interactive quizzes and games, or even videos. If Emended is being used for the teaching of a foreign language, wordbanks would be an example of a popular interactive resource at the disposal of language teachers. With no greater resource than the Internet itself, why not leverage your feedback to make use of it and put both credible webpages and competent tools within their reach?

4. Regular

Good feedback is of course regular. But, what does ‘regular’ really mean? If characteristics of feedback like frequent or timely, and ongoing come to mind, you’d be right!

Regular feedback is in fact when feedback is given back to students at a pace that lets them register what they’ve submitted but then also not forgotten it. An all too common narrative of feedback is teachers oftentimes struggling to get through it in a timely fashion. To finish marking a stack of papers can in those instances take either overtime or then delays in getting submissions back to the students themselves – neither of which being preferable to the other.

When writing feedback, Emended lets you skim and select your most frequently used comments in a single click, dramatically reducing the time you spend on corrections to written work and thereby helping you return feedback to students with appreciable regularity. Students also receive their feedback instantaneously rather than waiting for the next in-class session or available office hours. Regular feedback as a result ultimately encourages students to build on previous efforts and get more involved, optimally even self-monitoring their own progress.

5. Goal-oriented

Good feedback is goal-oriented. Orienting your comments towards a student goal means, first, that you’re aware of where your students are, and, second, that you have a plan to what level(s) to guide them – commonly called in practice goal-referencing, and what the late education scholar Grant Wiggins cleverly summarises as the moment ‘information becomes feedback’.

In between every student’s starting point and destination is a series of smaller steps – benchmarks, if you will – that work like checkpoints to see where one is at, relative to where they started but also, where they’re going. The problem is that feedback is oftentimes treated as a third component to teaching and learning, instead of being integral to both. If feedback is to be effective, shouldn’t it be necessarily involved in every step of the learning process? And for all the time you spend on providing feedback, wouldn’t it be that much more rewarding to be guaranteed that students will read it?

Emended’s multi-submission workflows are one way to reintroduce feedback into the teaching-learning loop, while also making sure it’s getting the attention it deserves. These goal-oriented workflows support learning in incremental steps, rather than large, unassessed leaps, in that you’re actually designing tasks according to open, adjustable plans on when and how often students submit assignments, and in turn when you provide feedback on them. The effectiveness of multi-submission workflows lies in students resubmitting an assignment based on the feedback they will have previously received on it.

In self-assessing guidance of your own students, Emended lets you view live statistics on how often and what kinds of comments you use in your feedback. While this can be effective for spotting patterns or areas of improvement in your own teaching, one of its greatest benefits is showing you mid- or post-submission whether you are categorically addressing a given student’s problem areas – that is, directing attention to instances where the student is known to struggle. In this way, Emended ultimately helps you keep tabs on how goal-oriented your comments really are.

6. Individualised

Good feedback has also been determined to be individualised. Individualisation refers to a personal quality of feedback that communicates to the student in a one-on-one dynamic that you are correcting them relevantly as well as relative to their own communication style and learning characteristics. If the nature of teaching is online, then individualised, or personal, feedback is especially important as it, you could say, transcends an otherwise impersonal mode of communication.

Emended takes this concept of personalisation further with the ability to tweak and edit already saved comments on the fly for individual use anywhere and at any time. That means more templatic, quick comments for spotting everyday errors, but if and when an instance calls for something more personalised and in the case of a particular student or context, then the tools to do just that are readily available to you.

It’s of course always an option to write your students one-off unique comments. They’re as simple to create as selecting a ready-to-use comment but instead, starting to type your own and then saving – that’s it.

A general, overarching comment of a student’s work is an important aspect of the feedback process, and in Emended this is precisely what students see the first time they open their feedback. Summarising thoughts can help you frame your commentary from the get-go so that students receive both suggestions and critique in a similarly encouraging way.

7. Teacher-friendly

An often overlooked quality of good feedback is that it’s also engaging for teachers themselves to deliver. Resources in education today are getting slimmer and slimmer and so a method of delivering feedback that is either resource-sparing or stress-relieving, or better – both! – seems an obvious requirement for optimising what feedback students receive as well as how they receive it.

Emended’s solutions to making feedback teacher-friendly are many, but most attractive is the select-and-paste convenience of your most routine comments at the expense of but a single click – yes, the length of time you’ve come to expect in marking written work just went right out the window.

No less forward-thinking is the smart-access dashboard giving you easy access to all student submissions. With every assignment being automatically categorised per 4 simple stages, the work you actually do from your dashboard is less overhead-servicing and more productivity-based – saving you considerable time in the process. Your dashboard can even organise submissions by their course or task, so that finding what you’re looking for is the equivalent of opening a desk drawer or briefcase that is tirelessly self-organising while also being 100% paper-free.

Emended also fosters teacher-to-teacher collaboration through the use of shared comments. Humanising the team-feedback dynamic, now teachers can work together where updates to one comment are instantaneously available for all to see and even to use themselves. Advice-sharing or implementing best practices has never been more organic with no teacher left to their own devices. Got one or many new teachers on the team? Emended’s team-friendly environment is invaluable in bringing them up to speed, so everyone can hit the ground running.