Providing Effective Feedback


Providing students with effective feedback is an important component of teaching. It has the potential not only to facilitate students’ immediate learning but also to enhance their academic and personal development. Providing meaningful feedback is often time consuming, and it is  tempting to make due with brief descriptive (e.g., needs work) or evaluative (e.g., Good Job!) comments. These comments do not, however, add to students’ understanding of what they can do to improve.

According to the University of New Brunswick Teaching and Learning Services, feedback should help students become aware of their best strategies for learning and how to use them independently. That is, students need to be able to evaluate their own work. Therefore,  for feedback to be useful,  students must know (a) what constitutes good work, (b) how their current work compares to good work, and (c) what to do to close the gap between the two.

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Characteristics of Effective Feedback

Effective feedback on assignments and tests provides students with information that will help them improve their performance. Thus, it should be characterized by being:

  1. Clear – uses language that is understandable and unambiguous;
  2. Specific – focuses on behaviors, not general characteristics, and provides examples or alternatives;
  3. Timely – is given as soon as possible, certainly within 14 days of the assignment or test;
  4. Frequent – students are given multiple opportunities to receive feedback and demonstrate improvement;
  5. Actionable – tells student what to do in order to improve;
  6. Realistic – focuses on what can be changed within the context of the course;
  7. Supportive/constructive – is balanced and includes positive statements that indicate what the student is doing correctly as well as incorrectly;
  8. Tailored to the assignment or test – comments are related to the goal of the assessment and are in accordance with the grading rubric.

The University of South Carolina Center for Teaching and Learning offers specific guidelines as well as the following suggestions for effective and efficient grading feedback:

  • Use comments to teach rather than to justify the grade, focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work. Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment.
  • Plan early opportunities for students to get feedback on ways of thinking, writing, or problem solving that they will need later, so that they don’t develop or repeat common errors. In-class active or collaborative learning exercises can be good moments to provide formative feedback in class, when students are practicing new skills or learning new concepts.
  • Avoid over-commenting or “picking apart” students’ work.
  • In your final comments, ask questions that will guide further inquiry by students.
  • Think about alternatives to writing comments on every individual student’s work. Provide feedback to the whole class orally and/or in a shared written document, or have the class read sample student work together to look for common themes or apply evaluation criteria.

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Helpful Resources