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Feedback: (noun) a reaction or response to a particular process or activity; evaluative information derived from such a reaction or response.
Giving students constructive feedback on their work is an important part of teaching, and a skill every training manager should develop. Motivating students while correcting their work is essential, but the wrong kind of feedback can often frustrate or alienate a student. This in turn hinders their learning process, which is the last thing you want to do. So, how should feedback be given correctly?
A recent study carried out by psychologists found that a particular type of feedback improved student performance and effort by 40%. In the study, this particular phrase yielded the most drastic improvement: “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”
At first glance this phrase might not seem like feedback at all! There is no evaluative information being provided and little reaction to the content or quality of a student’s work. Yet those 19 words caused a 40% increase of students revising their work effectively. Why? This particular phrase communicates clearly to students that there are high expectations in place, which could be intimidating but is also motivating. The fact that the teacher also shares their belief that the student can reach the expectations is the most powerful part. Managing expectations before you start giving feedback is important and serves to encourage the student to work hard in order to achieve lofty standards.
When you do provide feedback related to content or behaviour, be sure to be descriptive instead of judgmental. Describe the behaviour or mistakes clearly and in detail. For example, instead of saying “this needs improvement” give specific details such as “this argument is weak because you only have one defending point, where three are needed.”
Providing constructive feedback also means you have to be careful not to fall into the trap of simply praising or criticising a student’s work. Providing balanced feedback will be more beneficial to your students. While it can be very easy to praise students who are doing well, it’s also important to look at the points they could work on as well, or negative feedback, as this can be just as important. Simply telling someone they are doing well will be great for the self-esteem, but it may not give them the information they need to improve themselves. Make sure you are looking at the whole picture before providing feedback.
Similarly, while you may need to provide negative feedback in some situations, you should take the time to point out the things these students also do well. It’s important to make sure you are not just providing negative feedback to students and are actually taking the time to praise them as well. If a student only receives negative feedback, they will eventually stop listening altogether.
It may be a good idea to try and split your positive feedback from the more negative feedback, and a good way to do this can be to make sure you start and end on some positive feedback, and sandwich the negative points in the middle. This will mean the feedback session starts on the right foot, and also means the last point you discuss is something positive, meaning your students are more likely to leave the feedback session focussing on the last positive point. Using this technique also means you have to take the time to make sure you have good points and points that need worked on for every student.
Constantly providing praise to one set of students and criticism to another may also project an image of favouritism among your class, which is why it’s important to make sure all your feedback is balanced. You want to show your students that you care about their learning, and make sure you’re providing comments which will help all your students reach their full potential.
State what you see, hear, or read from a student instead of what you assume. Focus on concrete observations, especially if you are providing feedback on behaviour related incidents. For example, instead of saying “you never listen” (inference) try “I’ve noticed ￼that you check your phone throughout my class.” It’s important to make sure you are commenting on the behaviour of your students, and not them as a person, as this can lead to the feedback being too personal and possibly insulting someone.
It’s also important to make sure you explain the impact of their behaviour, and not just what the behaviour is. Showing the impact behaviour can have can let people to see how they are affecting the rest of their class or their work. If your students can see the bigger picture it can help them to take the feedback on board, rather than just disregard it as unimportant.
Once you have clearly stated an observation, give the student time to respond and clarify if necessary. Your goal in providing constructive feedback to your students should be to motivate, provide guidance, and share information. It should never be to belittle or shame a student, even if their work is truly appalling. If you do have a student who turns in such low quality work, talk with them and find out what the underlying issues are. They may require extra assistance or they could just need someone to believe in them.
As said above, you want to avoid simple praise and criticism, as this can be based on your own personal judgements of how well someone if performing. However, if you make sure to base all your feedback on actual observations, it should mean you are providing constructive feedback your students can actually work on.
Once you’ve delivered the feedback, it’s important to make sure your students understand all the points you have raised with them, so let them ask questions and talk through any points which they might not fully have grasped. Receiving feedback can sometimes be overwhelming, while some people just don’t respond well to receiving it, so allocating some time for discussion and reflection afterwards could iron out any confusion, and will be helpful for both parties.
Also make sure you express your support for your students, so they know the feedback process is about ensuring everyone is working to the best of their ability.
If you follow the tips we’ve outlined above it should help make sure that not only are you giving the best constructive feedback possible, but also that your students recognise feedback as an essential part of the learning process, and don’t fear it.
Edinburgh | Scotland | September 22-23, 2016