Four Ideas to Improve Feedback for Students

My favorite part about feedback is how much fun it is to watch students read their grade and then nothing else after I've spent hours leaving detailed feedback.

No, I take it back. Even more fun is watching them make the same mistakes on the next piece of writing because the feedback I spent hours leaving them did absolutely nothing.

So, here is where we can make a choice:

1) We can live out the definition of insanity and continue doing the same thing while expecting different results.

2) We can try something new to see if we can help students in a more effective way.

So, here are some ideas for how we can improve feedback for our students:

1) Get the grades out of the way.

I hated watching students look at their grades and not care about anything else, so I made a quick switch. I stopped giving them their grades with their feedback. Guess what? They stopped paying attention to their grades. This one's easy, but it works wonders. 

Another method for doing this is through single-point rubrics. With this, you only leave either positive feedback or suggestions for improvement. That's it. To read more, check out this blog from Cult of Pedagogy.

2) Make them do something with their feedback. 

What do we do with all those "important" emails that start with "FYI" in the subject line? I already know what you are thinking, and of course we all read them thoroughly, taking detailed notes on every nuance and tidbit. We aren't very different from students. Information is only as important as what we have to do with it. 

This can come in a variety of forms. For starters, you could just have students reply to any comment you leave. If you want to step it up a notch, think about incorporating a portfolio where students have to summarize their feedback and explain what they learned. For a simple idea, check out this example of a simple portfolio.

3) Use a text expander to leave more detailed comments (with YouTube videos!)

I remember when my teacher would identify a fragment in my writing. Somewhere there would be this little comment that said "frag," and my middle school boy brain would yell, "FRAG GRENADE! EVERYBODY GET DOWN!" I didn't know what frag meant (see what I did there), and even if I knew it stood for fragment, I had no idea what that was or how to fix it. Back then, it would have taken forever to write out a detailed explanation explaining what a fragment is and then provide examples, and blah blah blah. Too much work. 

However, this is where text expanders come in handy. In short, a text expander allows you to set up codes that expand into longer pieces of text, and the best part is that you can even include links to videos, websites, quizzes, etc. So, instead of writing "frag," now I can type in a code and automatically leave a comment with lots of details, links to more information, and more! For more on this, check out this blog post.

4) Try out video (or audio) feedback. 

We all know teachers are a little bit off and talk to themselves all the time while they are working. So, what if we came up with an excuse that made us a little less off our rockers and a little more effective. What I'm talking about is video feedback, specifically screencasts. 

I really like Screencastify, but any screen recorder tool will work. All you have to do is start your screencast recording, grade as you normally would, and explain your thinking out loud. Once it's recorded, just take the link to it, add it in a comment on the top of the assignment, and send it back to the student. It's actually pretty fun, and I've gotten lots of positive feedback from students on it. 

Note: Refer to step 2. They still have to do something with it.

Final Thoughts

There's no 100% foolproof method to ensure that feedback is effective. However, there is a foolish method, one where we keep doing the same thing we've always done and expect better results. If you think it will work, try it. What's the worst that will happen? Students will ignore the feedback and continue making the same mistakes? I mean, is that really any worse than where we're at now?

If you have other methods that you love, pass them along! Let's get the ideas flowing and the learning happening! Comment below.