Want to Significantly Improve Your Feedback to Students? Stop Giving It in Isolation

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The lecture long dominated the classroom. The concept behind it was simple. Teachers have information and students don’t. So the teachers give information to the students, who have the choice to absorb the information or not.

These days we understand that there are often better approaches than to just throw information at students. We know that students usually learn best when a class revisits key ideas, skills, and content multiple times in multiple different ways.

The one common glaring exception to this trend away from here-is-the-information-do-what-you-want pedagogy and towards deeper, more recursive practice in our classes? The feedback we give.

Feedback in the classroom still tends to be delivered in one brief moment where it is looked at once (if it is actually looked at). Rarely is it spoken of again or connected to feedback from previous weeks.

The main reason for this is likely a logistical one; giving feedback to student writing is already such a massive, draining, and all-consuming task that finding ways to revisit it or link various pieces of feedback together often just simply feels like too much.

This feeling is understandable, but unfortunately our brains are designed to forget nearly everything we only see once, meaning that if feedback only plays the role of a short cameo, never to be mentioned again, its impact will likely always remain relatively small.

So what should we do? Generally speaking, we cannot add more work to our plates as teachers. Most of us have too much to do already. Instead, we need to work smarter and not harder by requiring the students to do what they should be doing anyhow: tracking their own growth.

In my classes, I have students do this by giving them this assignment at the start of each semester:

A pdf of The Reflection Paper

This “Reflection Paper,” as I call it, puts on the students’ radar that they are required to track their own learning–including the feedback they receive–as the semester progresses.

Then, to make sure that each student is doing this, I require and give them time to do the following in their writer’s notebook throughout the semester:

Additionally, I also schedule my writing conferences with them after I give them feedback so we can discuss it and require them to address the feedback I give them on formative drafts before I will accept it as a final draft. This means that when I open up a final draft and see a revision history that looks like this…

…I hand it back to the student and politely tell him/her/them that I will count it as a final draft only when they have finalized it by spending serious time using my feedback to revise.

I’ve also begun to experiment with further embedding discussion of the feedback I give students into class time. I now conference with Google Classroom in front of me, which allows me to quickly pull up and discuss previous feedback, and have students set goals for each new unit on the day they receive their feedback from the last one in an effort to link the two.

All of this is meant to elevate feedback to its rightful position. Giving personal feedback is likely the most important and time-consuming part of our job, so it is past time to truly welcome it into our classes and treat it as a valuable reusable resource instead of a series of disposable asides!

Yours in teaching,


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One response to “Want to Significantly Improve Your Feedback to Students? Stop Giving It in Isolation”

  1. […] I have written about this before, but there is one common glaring exception to this trend of more recursive practice in our classes though: feedback to student writing. […]


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