This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on March 11, 2019. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
How many of us teachers have had this experience? You spend an afternoon reading student work and providing detailed feedback. You return the work convinced that your notes will help students deepen their learning and meet the course objectives. Then you see students glancing at the grade and quickly tucking those papers in their notebooks. Or, you provide the feedback electronically and can tell it’s never been opened. What’s going on here?
Providing relevant and focused feedback is one of the most effective ways to “move the needle” on learning (Wiggins, 2012; Wiliam, 2016). But it doesn’t do anything for learning if students don’t read and use the feedback. If they don’t, we’re left wondering if it’s worth our time to provide it.
Recently I had an experience that forced me to rethink my feedback practices. My graduate students conduct research projects over the course of one year. In the fall term, they write research proposals and review relevant research. In winter, they implement their projects and collect data, and in spring they write about their findings. During each quarter both a draft paper and a final paper are due; I provide feedback on both. I focus my feedback on the objectives of the assignment, but also offer suggestions on how to improve their writing.
Not too long ago I spent the better part of two weeks providing feedback on drafts for my 70 students—it was terrific feedback, if I do say so, and I was excited to see how it would improve their projects! A few weeks later I was disappointed when I overheard a group of students asking each other about grades on their drafts and some saying they hadn’t looked at their drafts. When I polled my class, it turned out that most had not looked to see what their grades and only a few had read my feedback. How did they expect to improve their work if they weren’t using the feedback I provided? And, if I considered my feedback to be an important element of their learning, then how could I get them to read and use it?
I felt compelled to address the problem right there in class. I asked students to open up our course online platform and find my feedback. I quickly learned that several students did not know how to find the feedback I provided—that was a surprising discovery! Once I made sure everyone knew how to access their feedback, I gave students time to read my comments.
But what I most wanted was for students to use that feedback and it was clear they needed help in figuring out how to do that. I devised and started using a simple organizer to track the implementation of my feedback into their work (see Table 1: Simple Organizer & Implementation Plan). I asked each student to write my feedback suggestions in the first column, and then to create an Implementation Plan in which they stated how they would address that feedback in their next version of the paper. They could choose not to take my suggestions as long as they acknowledged that they’d read my comments and offered an explanation for why they didn’t think that suggestion would improve their work.
|Feedback from instructor||How I plan to address the feedback|
Page 3: You wrote, “My students have had great success”
—please provide a supporting example.
I will include an example of two students’ interacting with the technology.
Page 7: You mention a concern about all students having access to technology in their homes. How can you address this within your paper?
I will add an Appendix that includes suggestions on how to support access for all students.
Next, I had students work with a partner to talk through their implementation plans. I decided to add this collaborative talk time in the hope that students could get more ideas on how to address my comments. During this time, I circulated around the room and answered individual questions about the feedback and offering additional suggestions. Finally, I made students accountable for using my feedback by having them turn in their plan with their next version of their paper. I wanted my students to clearly understand my expectation that they would provide evidence of learning specified in the course objectives.
I have continued to use some form of this feedback model for all of the assignments. For those that are not long written projects, I use a shorter and more immediate process. However, the critical elements of providing time for students to access feedback and consider how it can be used to improve their learning have become an integral part of my teaching practice.
Maika J. Yeigh is an assistant professor in the College of Education, Curriculum & Instruction Department at Portland State University (Portland, Ore.). She is also the co-editor Northwest Journal of Teacher Education.
Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. 2012, 70(1), 11-6.
Wiliam, D. (2016). The secret of effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 73(7), 10-15.