How Can Teachers Make Their Feedback Meaningful?

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Meaningful feedback that goes along with an assessment is the bedrock of improvement…

It is an uncontested fact that evaluating/ assessing is an integral part of educating students. It determines whether or not the goals of education are being met. Teachers and parents use test scores and feedback to gauge a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Communities rely on these scores and feedback to judge the quality of the educational system. State and federal lawmakers use these same metrics to determine the schools’ standards. Put simply, one could say a founding theory is: You can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you are.

While gathering information and widening one’s knowledge base is an exciting concept for most people, the thought of being assessed or evaluated on the basis of what one knows is intimidating for most. One should not forget that the motive behind assessing students is twofold – it helps to identify and build on strengths and helps learners improve in areas that need attention, whether attitudinal or in skills. Thus, if that is the ultimate goal, then mere grades on an assignment are far from sufficient. Meaningful feedback that goes along with an assessment is the bedrock of improvement.

There are a number of factors that influence a teacher’s feedback, including aspects like a teacher’s tone and choice of words, writing legibly, and explaining abbreviations. Here are some ways in which teachers can make their feedback effective, and at the same time push the student forward.

1. Positive Tone and Phrasing
The tone of a teacher’s comments and how she phrases her feedback affects receptivity by students. A positive tone in comments can promote learning just as much as a negative address can cause students to be resistant to correction. Thus, teachers should be careful to choose phrases that will encourage students to reflect and consider ways to enhance their work.

2. Explaining the Grade
Students need to know why a teacher marked their work the way she did and the stage they’ve reached in the learning process. They should also be advised wisely about ways to move forward to apply what they’ve learned. Some academics suggest that whether a teacher puts the letter grade at the end of the comments or work it into the comments, the final section of comments should explain why the paper received a certain grade.

3. Final Comments
It is a good idea for the teacher to begin the final comments by identifying what worked on the assignment. If the assignment does not meet the standards, it may be difficult to produce sincere praise. However, be sure to point out something the student did well. This will set the stage for the student to be more receptive to criticism. Here are some useful components which can be included in comments to the student:

  • Goals for the next paper: Giving a student goals for the next paper (or a revision of the current paper) not only helps to improve that piece of writing, but also reinforces the importance of your comments
  • Material from the student’s paper: Quotes from a student’s paper or references to the main idea of a paper make clear that a teacher has engaged with this text – so her comments bear a great deal of weight
  • Recommendation of specific things to do: If a teacher simply identifies problems in a student’s writing, he or she may be at a loss to fix them. Try suggesting something specific to try, even if it’s simple (i.e. Leave extra time to revise)
  • Addressing the student personally: If the end-comment looks more like a personal letter or note instead of a simple written comment, the student might be more likely to read it

4. Writing Legibly
If a teacher is using her comments to teach rather than to justify the grade, it is imperative that students are able to understand the feedback. Illegible comments are a waste of time and energy for both the teacher and students. Another aspect to remember is to always explain abbreviations. As much as it is possible, teachers should avoid using jargon and abbreviations that are not commonly known. In cases where it is absolutely necessary, ensure that the short forms are fully explained.

Like this article for teachers?

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