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How to Provide Effective Feedback to Students

Student feedback is critical for academic growth and success. The more we study and research how this impacts student learning, the more we see that it is one of the most important tools in our educational toolbox. It helps students take ownership of their learning and become an advocate for themselves. It also teaches them how to provide effective and appropriate feedback to their peers.

Should be Educative in Nature

Feedback should always be instructional in nature and never be directed at anything other than what the student did well or what the student needs to work to improve. At our school, we use learning ladders to support students and teachers as they navigate through the feedback process.

Learning ladders are developed during our weekly Teaching and Learning Team meetings. We begin with a targeted standard that we will teach and unpack it to make sure we know every skill that students should be able to do to master the standard. We then put those pieces into the learning ladder in student-friendly terms and introduce it to students before teaching the unit. Students then track their own progress and meet with the teacher to discuss where they currently are on the learning ladder and what they might be struggling with that is keeping them from climbing the ladder. Here’s an example of a fourth-grade ELA learning ladder.

Should be Targeted

Feedback to students should definitely be targeted and specific. A teacher should not just say, “Good Job!” or “exceptional Work!” This does not help a student know what they did well or what they need to work on. In fact, this is so important that it is now a part of our state rubric for teacher evaluation. There is an academic feedback section, and three of the five things that evaluators look for are based on this one point.

  • Oral and written feedback is consistently academically focused, frequent, and high quality.
  • Feedback is frequently given during guided practice and homework review. The teacher circulates to prompt student thinking, assess each student’s progress, and provide individual feedback.
  • Feedback from students is consistently used to monitor and adjust instruction.

A targeted example would be: “You did a really nice job comparing and contrasting points of view in this text. Why do you think the author chose this point of view in this section?”

Should be Given in a Timely Manner

This is perhaps one of the most important things to consider and plan for when giving student feedback. While it is time consuming to grade work, it is so much more effective to share feedback with students as soon as possible from when they did the work. If you wait a week to meet with a student before giving them feedback, that is not going to be as helpful to them. They need to be able to have authentic feedback as close to doing the assignment so they can remember what they were thinking when they did it and be able to talk about their thought process and what they struggled with.

A teacher doesn’t even necessarily have to grade an assignment to give feedback to a student. They could quickly look at a student’s work and conference with them in real time. This is much more meaningful, effective, and will make a more lasting impact. If students use their learning ladders as they work and bring it to a conference with the teacher, it also helps them speak to their work as they share and the teacher can give them that specific feedback to help them move on to the next step.

Keep Individual Needs in Mind

Students do not all progress at the same pace, and they are not all on the same level. It is so important to remember that we should meet students where they are. If a student is a struggling reader in fourth grade, we would still want to try and focus on fourth grade standards but use a lower level of text.

If you have an ESL learner, you would want to support them with visuals to help them understand the learning ladder and possibly a graphic organizer to help them organize their thoughts while reading the text, as well as preview any unknown vocabulary that could break down comprehension.

These are things that will help these individual students be successful. You must differentiate to meet all students’ needs.

Give Genuine Praise

Let’s be real here…students know if we are being honest or not. We must definitely be truly genuine when giving feedback to students in order for them to take it seriously. Find something positive about the work and something that needs improvement. A good rule of thumb is to point out two really exceptional things about the work and one thing to work on. You could even annotate on their learning ladder so they can easily reference it.

It is also beneficial for students to tell you two things they felt they did well and one thing they need to work on; then you can discuss it together to come up with an effective strategy for improvement as a team. This helps the student be more invested in the process.

Provide Models or Examples

Students who are provided an exemplar have a clear understanding of expectations and are more likely to be successful. The teacher should model their thinking and work with the class or a small group to create a high-quality example of what students will do on their own. A exceptional format to follow for this is ‘I Do, We Do, You Do’. This scaffolds the process for students as they work up to independence.

Encourage Students to Give you Feedback

This is the ultimate display of student understanding. If they can give the teacher feedback and give peers feedback, then they truly demonstrate their level of knowledge and are able to help others improve their reflection of their own work. Receiving feedback from students is also a valuable tool to improve your instruction and address learning gaps, concerns, or difficulties students may be experiencing.


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