April 14th, 2011

To Increase Learner Achievement Serve Feedback Sandwiches


Constructive instructor feedback is essential for a students’ cognitive growth, and it is essential that constructive feedback be presented in a positive and encouraging manner. An appropriate technique, known to the authors as the sandwich approach, encourages learners while providing honest, open and direct critique. Online instructors, in particular, should serve virtual sandwiches to increase motivation and to bolster the achievement of their students. In its most rudimentary sense the virtual sandwich has three layers a top slice, the filling, and the bottom slice.

To begin the evaluation of an assignment, the instructor creates the top slice a positive comment regarding the student work. To form the top slice, the instructor searches for something in the assignment the student did well. Surely, each assignment has something positive that can be noted by the instructor. Whether the positive comment captures the essence of something complex or something as straightforward as submitting an assignment in on time, it is crucial the instructor begin in a positive light. In saying this, it is vital that this top slice is honest and served with genuine respect for the student as a human being.

The middle slice should contain critical perspective, a direct critique, and a critical analysis that is served constructively. The middle slice comments must be aligned to the evaluation rubric (if present) and the specifications of the assignment. The middle slice centers on the content of the assignment, the critical thinking skills that are presented such as analysis and synthesis, and the organization structure inclusive of writing style, grammar, usage, and spelling. The tenor of the middle slice remains palatable to the learner as it demonstrates the instructors’ care, concern and consideration for the learner.

The bottom slice should be of the same tone as the top slice in expressing something positive, sincere and meaningful. Again, the instructor needs to remain vigilant in searching for positive attributes within each assignment, which sometimes feels like searching for the silver lining in a cloud. The search is worthy and needs to be fueled by the learner’s esteem, motivation and continuation. It is in the bottom slice that presents the invitation to the learner to rethink how he or she should restructure future assignments for the current or future courses.

In essence, the serving of feedback sandwiches is intended to motivate and inspire the learner to higher levels of critical thought, and to assist the learner in closing the gap between his or her current level of achievement and the expected or intended level of achievement. This type of feedback is especially important in the online classroom so that the learners can feel the human and humane assurance of the instructor at a distance.

Drs. Dale Kimball and Michael Jazzar have collectively served 26 years in higher education as professors, dissertation mentors, and administrators at Western Michigan University, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, and for several online universities. They have authored books, book chapters, journal publications, and designed and developed online courses. They may be contacted by e-mail at kimballd@live.com or mjazzar@verizon.net.

  • azman

    Dear author,
    Many students now do not write their own assignment but cut and paste from online sources. In a country where English is a second or third language, I can easily point out which part of the assignment is genuine work and which part is cut and paste. So I find it unjust to provide positive comments on sections where it is not their original work.

    And you know, finally the feedback is in the form of negative feedback.

  • MB Drake

    I teach freshman composition at a community college. I have heard this approach many times and I always struggle with finding something positive to write about work that was done at the last minute with little regard for quality or to address the assignment. I use rubrics with the specific traits spelled out and make checks or minuses next to the traits. I think the students know that they have done poor work and false praise falls on deaf ears. If I ask for a rewrite and get much better work on the second try, i am generous with praise for following directions; however I am not sure if I am doing students any favors by allowing a second chance when it should''ve been done right the first time. Perhaps students have gotten away with handing in shoddy work and the learn from me that quality counts.

  • MB drake

    Oops I do know that the letter "I" should be capitalized and that I should proofread my work (see above "they learn)! I often demonstrate to students that I am as susceptible to making careless mistakes as they are and that I need some sort of strategy to slow myself down and catch my own errors before I represent myself in writing!.