Tips to Help Students Make the Most of Feedback

Have you ever had the sinking suspicion that the feedback you have painstakingly provided for students is—gasp—not being read? Does the next essay you read make the same mistakes? Considering how many hours we dedicate to providing meaningful feedback, this can feel a little frustrating!

This semester I have been on a quest to ensure that my students are not only carefully reading my feedback, but applying it.  Here are some strategies that I incorporate before, while, and after grading:

Before Grading

Illuminate Expectations

Along with each assignment, I provide a detailed rubric spelling out performance at each level so that students can see what is expected of them. I refer to this rubric repeatedly as we work on the assignment.

View a Sample Rubric! I invite you to view one of my rubrics, shared in the form of a public Canvas assignment. The rubric is located on the assignment page under the heading “Essay Evaluation and Feedback.”

Actively Anticipate Student Work

I explain early and often that I will be spending lots of time with the incoming set of essays or projects and providing detailed feedback. I want my students to write knowing that they have an attentive and responsive audience. I find that if students know their work will be carefully reviewed, they are motivated to invest more time into it, which tends to lead to higher quality submissions.

While Grading

Make it stick!

I provide different types of feedback, both within a semester and even within an assignment: annotations, rubric comments, and audio/video feedback, for example. Why? Different methods appeal to different students, and I want my feedback to stick. I have also found that when one type of feedback reinforces another, the message has a better chance of breaking through. So, if I see several examples of “creative” source citation, I will use the annotation tools in Canvas to mark the examples, and then I’ll follow this up with a video comment that shows and explains the correct citation format.

Layer Praise with Suggestions

I balance kudos with suggestions for improvement so that students are encouraged to keep reading/viewing the feedback and then motivated to act on it.

After Grading

Video Guide for Finding Feedback

Before releasing the first graded assignment with feedback, I share a video explaining how to access and use my feedback.  While the assignment is “muted” and they are waiting to see how they did, they are a captive and motivated audience!  This video shows students how to find their feedback, what they can expect to see, and how to make the most of it:

3 Tips to Fuel Feedback

Here are three more ways to help students make the most of the feedback they have received:

  1. Encourage students to respond to feedback by replying to you with their own annotations, comments, or video. This helps students move from passively reading to actively engaging with the feedback.
  2. Offer extra credit to students who develop a work plan to address noted issues or seek tutoring to address a recommendation.
  3. Instruct students to review your feedback when they prepare for their next assignment. For example, you might ask students to identify three goals for the next paper via a journal entry, reflective quiz, or survey. Or a required step in assignment submission might be using the comments area to explain how the new submission addresses feedback from the last one.

Students have a lot of information competing for their attention, and I have found that these strategies help my feedback rise above the noise . . . and hopefully start a conversation.

Posted in Rubric Section C.

Tracy Schaelen is the Distance Education Faculty Coordinator at Southwestern College and a lead course reviewer for the California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative.

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