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Focusing on Giving Online Students Feedback

Understanding what students are trying to say, even when it’s unclear or poorly written, is an ongoing challenge for instructors at any level. On the flip side, students often get frustrated when a teacher gives them a grade or criticism clear to the teacher, but not to the students themselves.

Providing feedback is a balancing act. Give too much feedback, and the student feels overwhelmed. If you give too little feedback, the student may feel confused.

Here are four tips to ensure instructors can write feedback clearly understood by the student and stay focused on the value of an assignment for the student to do better next time.

1. Feedback needs to reference a specific skill or knowledge

Students often get confused by too much feedback that doesn’t focus on a particular area of concern. They read the comments and understand a problem but have no idea what they need to fix.

To prevent that disorientation, clarify what skill or knowledge you are asking the student to improve.

First, provide a detailed rubric before handing out an assignment so that your students know what skill or knowledge you will assess. After, make sure to reference that skill in your notes to show your students what you’re grading.

Lastly, concentrate your assessment on one skill or knowledge point. Your students will have a much easier time focusing on improving one thing than addressing multiple improvement areas. Once they show improvement in that area, you can introduce a new skill to focus on afterwards.

2. Even with distance education, give feedback promptly

The timing at which you deliver your feedback has a direct correlation to its effectiveness. The rule of thumb is to give feedback as soon as possible. Immediate feedback is ideal, although not always possible. When you give feedback quickly, the student is more likely to respond positively to it, and they will remember it and act upon it sooner.

By tightening the feedback loop, students can correct their mistakes sooner and improve faster, leading to quicker skill acquisition and knowledge retention. The longer you wait to give feedback, the more likely a student will lose “momentum” to improve. The delay in feedback will result in them forgetting and, perhaps, losing interest in addressing the feedback sooner.

3. Tailor your criticism to the temperament of your student

Every student is unique, not only in their learning styles but also in their temperament. Some students don’t mind assertive feedback that pushes them to do better, but others need to be handled gently and with care. Never underestimate the power of your delivery. Your choice of words or tone of voice creates an emotional response in your students, and that will affect the way they handle the criticism.

For a student who thrives on “tough love,” being too laid-back may not give them the impetus to reach their potential. For sensitive students, harsh criticism may cause them to shut down and negatively affect their self-esteem.

Taking each student’s individual needs into account will mean that your feedback has the most chance of effecting positive change in that student’s work.

4. Online teaching? Provide your students with a model

Before you give out an assignment, always give your students a model of an A+ piece of work, and highlight the components that make it successful.

There’s a double-duty function instructor can fulfill by providing a model:

  1. It helps set the expectation early on, so students know what you are looking for right away.
  2. You can go back to the model for reference when determining what feedback you should give your students.

You can also show students more than A+ work. In contrast, you can show what C, D, or failing assignments look like so that students can see a clear distinction between acceptable and unacceptable work.

5. Keep track of their progress

New feedback will fail to provide any value if it doesn’t follow up on previous input given.

You need to see what the student did before, assess where they are now, and then help them get to where they need to be tomorrow. That calls for monitoring their progress.

Using a tool like Crowdmark will help you keep track of students’ progress and allow students to see their progress across the course. Crowdmark’s student reporting gives students the ability to view a graph of their scores across assessments, including their top and bottom scoring questions, and links them directly to the questions and feedback that you returned.

With this record on hand, you can see if you’re giving the same feedback or new feedback, which is an indicator of whether your student is making progress or not.

Focus: The key to successful feedback

As we mentioned at the outset of this article, tight and focused feedback is essentially now during this pandemic. With many students enrolled in remote learning, technical constraints and environmental distractions will limit your communication, making it even more critical for feedback to be clear and concise. By keeping these five points in mind, you can ensure that your feedback is focused and effective.