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Fine-Tune Your Feedback & Boost Learning Outcomes

Creating an environment where feedback is eagerly sought and three ways to communicate it to students.

image:Smiling teacher.

The importance of formative assessments is exponential and widely discussed throughout all educational forums. Knowing where our students stand in their understanding and mastery of concepts and content is crucial. Knowing how to guide and facilitate the continual growth and development in said students is an oft overlooked yet imperative component to the entire process. Without a proper grasp of feedback strategies, the most innovative lessons and assessments will fall short of tapping into the true potential of our students.

At any level in our learning, whether we’re five or fifty-five, the feedback we do and don’t receive goes a long way in sparking our continued desire to learn and try new things. Well done! and Good job! are lovely sentiments, but an overall pat on the back does little to spur the quest for learning and offers no guidance for academic growth. Building an environment where students positively view feedback goes a long way toward increasing learning outcomes.

3 Key Elements for Feedback

  1. Timely — It’s important to give feedback in a timely manner. If feedback falls too far outside of the thought process window, it will be difficult for students to apply any direction given and move forward toward mastery of a concept. Papers to review or assess simply cannot pile up and be returned outside of the instructional framework. The best feedback will come while students are actively engaged in the learning process; the next best option is an ASAP turnaround.
  2. Fine-Tuned — The feedback given must correlate with the predominate learning target(s) given. When numerous overreaching comments are given about a variety of components, students can lose sight of the main area of focus and have difficulty getting back on track. While it can be hard to pull your attention from every aspect of a piece, it’s important to shed the main light on the current target(s) of study.
  3. Positive — If students are only given feedback on areas that need improvement, they may take on a defeatist attitude as they complete their work. Pointing out strengths within a piece will make students more receptive to finding ways to improve it.

When feedback strategies incorporate these three elements, students will be more inclined to work through material and make adjustments within the learning process that enhance their mastery of the concepts and targets being studied. While these elements are the nuts and bolts of feedback, there are several ways to deliver it. We’re highlighting three strategies to use when communicating feedback to students.

3 Feedback Strategies

  1. Over-the-Shoulder Feedback — This three-step approach from Brilliant or Insane1 is a perfect model for delivering timely feedback. Teachers are essentially doing quick check-ins or mini-conferences where they 1. focus on a single target 2. pose questions to allows the learner to uncover the next step and 3. share some possible options for moving forward. Avoiding the issuance of directives makes this a positive interaction and discussion of the work.
  2. Stars and Steps — This is a great method when in-the-moment feedback isn’t possible and work has been collected. As teachers review an assignment, a star symbol is drawn and followed by a comment regarding something done well, and a step symbol is drawn and followed by a question or comment that lends itself to an area where improvement/attention is needed. These symbols could also be drawn on post-its and placed on student papers as you circulate during quiet work time.
  3. Student Feedback Loops — This feedback strategy shared on Edutopia2 chooses a singular aim, or target, for the day. This aim becomes the non-evaluative focus of the feedback. As the aim is addressed, students revise and apply new understandings to their work and the cyclical nature of the loop begins again. This process lends itself to becoming very student driven, as learners work to fine-tune their understanding of the aim.

There are innumerable ways to assess students on their levels of understanding. It’s how we proceed with this information that has the biggest impact on their learning outcomes. When the classroom environment is positively charged and conducive to feedback, students will be more inclined to apply the information gleaned from feedback strategies to enhance their understanding and mastery of concepts studied.

If you enjoyed the thoughts and ideas shared here, check out the trainings and tools (for teachers and for families) that we offer.

Additional Resources & Works Cited

1. Brilliant or Insane
2. Edutopia

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