September 17th, 2014

When to Use Whole Class Feedback


Whole class feedback … you know, when the teacher returns a set of papers or exams and talks to the entire class about its performance, or the debriefing part of an activity where the teacher comments on how students completed the task. I don’t believe I have ever seen anything written about this feedback mechanism, even though I think most of us use it pretty regularly. Is it a good way to provide feedback? Do students pay any attention to feedback delivered in this way? When is whole class feedback most effective? After an exam? During group projects? Is it better to provide the feedback verbally or post it online? Should students be involved in this discussion of how well the class did or didn’t do?

Efficiency is the first thing this type of feedback format has going for it. The teacher can deliver the message once instead of multiple times. Also, it might help students to know that what engendered teacher criticism on their paper garnered the same comments on other papers, or that a problem they struggled with was difficult for by many of their classmates. Maybe they can be persuaded to help each other on these areas targeted for improvement? On the other hand, there may be issues of ownership with collective feedback. What’s to prevent students from inappropriately concluding that they aren’t guilty of one of these common errors?

What’s probably least effective is a teacher “lecture” (referencing here one of those finger-pointing, sharply worded, negative critiques). If it sounds like something a parent would say to an errant child, what’s the probability of an 18-year old taking the prescribed action and what’s the probability of adult who is as old as the teacher taking offense?

More effective are future-focused discussions. Based on their performance, what do they need to do next time? The discussion should identify specifics; things done well that they should continue doing, along with things to stop and start doing. Maybe some proposed actions become class goals—measurable ones that will be revisited after the next exam, paper, online discussion, or in-class activity.

I think there is a role for students in these feedback conversations, especially for those activities where they’ve seen the contributions of others, like a class discussion, for example. They were present for that exchange, maybe they contributed to it. Did it engage and involve them? What did they learn from it? What do they think might have improved the interaction? I’ve always been taken with Hollander’s observation that grading individual class contributions encourages disconnected discourse—students making a comment so they get credit, not because it connects with what someone else said. Hollander proposes that the interaction changes when we grade the discussion rather than individual contributions to it. I’ve tried this and it does encourage students to think about discussion as an entity and to exchange feedback, both before and after they have the discussion. I’ve also been impressed by how effectively peer pressure motivates participation and how well the class supports those first-time contributors.

The role of students is less clear when the feedback involves individual performances, like an exam or paper. Students know how they experienced the assignment, but not how it affected others. They have to ascertain how relevant the feedback is to them and how representative their feelings about the experience are.

I don’t have as many ideas on this topic as I think it merits. So, please share your thoughts, experiences, and strategies. If we’re offering feedback to the entire class, we ought to be thinking about the best ways to do it. I have tried ways that didn’t work. Once in a developmental English course I came to class with a collection of very poorly written sentences lifted (anonymously) from a set of papers. My idea was that we’d fix the sentences together and then students could look for similar sentences on their papers and correct them. But the students responded by arguing that the sentences weren’t bad, what the writer meant was perfectly clear to them, and it was teachers who couldn’t understand students. It quickly became one of those them-against-me situations where I responded defensively and abandoned the task in a grumpy frump.

Reference: Hollander, J. A. (2002). Learning to discuss: Strategies for improving the quality of class discussion. Teaching Sociology, 30 (3), 317-327.

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  • drweill

    I teach large (150+) undergraduate lecture classes. After each exam, I email a report to the class that gives the percentages of students who made grades ranging from A to F, as well as the mode, median and range. This corrects student complaints that "I failed but so did everyone else."

  • Chem Teacher

    I post all the grades as a list in the descending order without any identification (on the board) and ask students to see where they are compared to the others in the class. It works well and no complaints so far.

  • I'm imagining whole class feedback as, for example, displaying a student paper, page by page, on screen (or as a handout), and, in version 1, the faculty member making comments about the ways it most resembles other papers in the class (common strengths, common errors).

    In version 2, the instructor might use a write-pair-share approach: (a) ask a compelling question with no right answer (is there a better way to say what the student was trying to say in paragraph 3?), (b) ask each student to write a response, (c) pair students and ask them to explain their responses and reasoning to one another, to agree on a shared response, letting them know that you'll be calling on people and asking them to describe and justify their partner's response, (d) call on some of those students.
    Then ask another question about some other element of the paper on display. This takes considerably longer than critiquing the paper in front of the whole class, while the class takes notes, but tt's more powerful. I don't think it's as appropriate for right/wrong questions (how many grammar errors do you see) but perhaps others would disagree.

  • kotsalis

    The recursive nature of language learning helps keep students engaged and to learn from their mistakes. As such, before I return exams I create a T-chart on the board and ask students to identify the areas where they think they didn't do well. In essence what were the "sticking" points. I then ask them to identify how each would be corrected. This is a 15 minute exercise at most. I then return their papers and provide another 10 minutes to correct errors. If students have more questions I ask them to see me after class. The benefit of this type of feedback is twofold: It informs me of areas for additional instruction, and engages students to improve. However, feedback provides a learning opportunity only when students have a chance to demonstrate the "change" in their learning.

  • Felix Luis Rodriguez

    I teach math. When the class as a whole has not preformed badly in average % in a test, I make the discussion as follows: Students are informed previously that a discussion will take place: Scores will be presented anonymously: Feedbacks from students will be considered an improvement if the entire class is involved. Struggling students need to step-up. Best ideas are shared and the summary is given. Overall I've had mixed results, but one thing I've got: students' excitements and more willing to cooperate.
    Felix Luis

  • Jack Mac

    Once again, what delicious food for thought I keep finding in Faculty Focus! Reading the comments above on whole-class feedback, I noticed a few interesting patterns on the practical applications of this tactic in the field (albeit based on huge assumptions made from very little data). It seems to me that humanities and language arts faculty who teach smaller groups of students would be more inclined to having whole-class discussions and dialogue after an exam or group project. This type of formative assessment which facilitates "future-focused discussions," as Dr. Weimer stated, is perhaps more easily implemented in this environment. Conversely, faculty who lead larger groups of, say, chemistry or math students, may not have the opportunity–or the need–for long-winded discussions after a test and may only be able to use summative assessment (i.e., "This is your grade; we start a new subject tomorrow"). Sounds like a good topic for a thesis or dissertation doesn't it?

  • perryshaw

    I have found that any whole class feedback should be universally positive in tone. The moment I give even a hint of negativity resistance emerges. On the other hand I have found it helpful to give very specific examples of positive work (delivered anonymously) which show samples of what good work would look like. This works best when it is only sections of the quality work not the work as a whole. Not always, but often, the result is an upbeat mood that has positive outcomes.

  • sheltievet

    with our class software the mean and range can be posted on the class web site. As to whole class feedback, I also think that it helps those who did not make that particular error. They may have done a problem correctly but not totally understood how they did it. When they see a different aspect they can remember and not make the error. It is also more efficient to do in a group setting than to individually write a whole explanation.

  • Jane Bowers

    I teach developmental Math classes, and after each test I usually go over the questions that a lot of students had problems with on the test. I found that students appreciate these reviews. I don't go over the grades in general, but I see that students asking each other around and compare the grades (I would rather them worried that much about correcting the mistakes :). Once in a while, if I don't have time to go over the test mistakes during class, I give students opportunity to correct their mistakes on the test and return their test with corrections for couple extra points. I tell my students about different kinds of mistakes (careless, lack of preparation, etc.), and emphasize that correction of their mistakes is an important part of the learning process.

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  • arphiasulphurea

    Many of our online faculty use periodic whole class feedback to take stock of how the course is going, what issues cropped up repeatedly in say the last week's worth on online activity, what is coming up in the week ahead, what difficult material there might be, etc. I think this type of whole class feedback is useful for increasing instructor presence in online courses, and helps to develop a sense of community among the online learners.

  • My area is Criminal Justice, and as such I teach a workshop on Leadership for Law Enforcement. To take the issue of feedback beyond the classroom, I encourage my Law Enforcement Leaders that authentic feedback comes in three basic forms,
    Constructive – tells the individual how to make something better or do something better;
    Corrective – tells the individual how to fix what was wrong or make something right; and
    Praise – validates the individual and the work they performed

    I believe that when we adopt this framework for students across disciplines, we can begin to generate a common theme and work toward a common goal of improved performance, academically, personally, and professionally.
    E. Matthews

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