Writing Good Feedback

Wise Owl of FeedbackEffective feedback

  1. motivates, encourages and challenges
  2. uses a positive emotional tone to encourage students and increase their ‘self-efficacy’ – their belief that they are capable of doing well. Negative and personally critical comments are ineffective and damaging.
  3. clearly explains why a student received the mark that they did according to the assessment criteria
  4. encourages active learning strategies – i.e. explains what a student could do to
  5. is constructive in that it explains what the student could do next time to avoid a mistake or to improve their work
  6. helps students reflect on their own progress and develop skills of self-evaluation
  7. guides students to additional resources or learning activities that could help them
  8. helps students to feel a sense of accomplishment.
  9. makes it clear to students what the educational goals of the course are, for example whether greater emphasis is placed on familiarity with the literature or on competence. Students should be able to see how marks are arrived at in relation to the criteria, so as to understand the criteria better in future. They should be able to understand why the grade they got is not lower or higher than it actually is. One way to do this is to use the sentence stems: “You received a better grade than you might have done because you…” and “To have got one grade higher you would have had to …”.
  10. Reactivates or consolidates prerequisite skills or knowledge prior to introducing the new material

Feedback tips:

  • Make sure your feedback is written against the assessment criteria for a unit.
  • Feedback is ‘for’ learning and should therefore be constructive, highlighting how the student could improve upon their grade.
  • Avoid being too personal (e.g ‘I want you to stop being so precious..’)
  • Avoid writing things like ‘I am very pleased to see you working hard…’ Feedback is about the student, it’s not about you!
  • Keep your feedback clear, concise and objective, but do make sure you refer to the student’s work so that they know it is all about them.
  • Make sure you use adjectives from the relevant grading descriptors (e.g. sound, outstanding) to indicate the level of achievement. But take care not to be formulaic.
  • Avoid using language that might be too open to interpretation.

Considerations to help your course improve feedback:

  • To enable good feedback, assessment criteria need to be clearly written and unambiguous. Consider using minor course modifications to improve some of the assessment criteria.
  • When a brief is being set, include an exercise to help students understand and apply assessment criteria. This can help them become familiar with the language and terminology used in assessment and feedback. An exercise could involve looking at previously assessed work and asking them to apply the assessment criteria to it. Another exercise might be to introduce a peer assessment exercise further into the brief in which students assess each other’s work. This can be supported by information in the course handbook.
  • Rather than just focusing on ‘feedback’ to students (which invites a student dependency on the tutor), consider introducing the idea of ‘feeding forward’, so that students take more of an active role in tutorials. Encourage students to ask questions of the tutors to help them ascertain what they need to improve and how to go about it.
  • Explain to students that their work will be marked fairly using internal verification processes such as 2nd marking.
  • Explore ways to achieve greater attendance at tutorials and student ownership of feedback. For example, you could design a feedback tutorial form that requires students to prepare some questions before a tutorial, or develop guidance for students on how to get more out of their tutorial or crit. Consider introducing a peer assessment activity to help them learn how to provide more constructive criticism. Have a look at this example from the University of Bristol, especially ‘making the most of your tutorial’.
  • Consider alternative ways of providing feedback to reduce students’ dependency on ‘official’ feedback channels such as the written feedback form. This can also ease the burden of writing feedback. For example, consider
    • creating more peer assessment points where students assess each other’s work in a ‘mock crit’ using ‘critical questioning’ and assess against the grading descriptor
    • using the myFeedback tool to deliver formative feedback
    • encouraging students to record feedback tutorials

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