The Feedback Tips You Haven’t Heard Yet

A lot has been said about giving feedback. Lots of tips and strategies are out on the web. And most are great. The catch, though, is that you’ve likely heard them before.

So here are feedback tricks you probably haven’t heard to take feedback in your classroom to a whole new level.

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Promote mindfulness, not mindlessness

Feedback can promote learning if it is received mindfully. Conversely, feedback can inhibit learning if it encourages mindlessness, as when the answers are made available before learners begin their memory search, or if the feedback message does not match students’ cognitive needs (e.g., too easy, too complex, too vague)” (Shute, 2007).

Could you please elaborate?

Upon first glance elaborative feedback seems synonymous with specific feedback. Both require individual attention and tailoring to the learner.

Elaborative feedback is a type of specific feedback that builds on the initial correct/incorrect information. “Effective feedback provides the learner with two types of information: verification and elaboration. Verification is defined as the simple judgment of whether an answer is correct, and elaboration is the informational aspect of the message that provides relevant cues to guide the learner toward a correct answer”(Shute, 2007).

Elaboration provides more utility to the learner, giving them more to go on in their efforts to improve. “While verification [i.e., correct/incorrect] feedback did not improve learning, correct response, response-contingent, and a combination of the other levels of feedback have been shown to significantly improve student learning (e.g., Gilman, 1969). This may be due to…  elaboration feedback, which allows students to correct their own errors or misconceptions (Shute, 2007).”

Simplify

The simpler, the better. If you want your feedback read by your students, make it simple. Simple feedback has been shown to be more accessible than complex feedback: “If feedback is too long or too complicated, many learners will simply not pay attention to it, rendering it useless. Lengthy feedback can also diffuse or dilute the message” (Shute, 2007).

In a study of undergraduate students and the complexity of feedback they receive, “authors showed that more complex versions of feedback had a small effect on students’ ability to correct their own errors, and the least complex feedback demonstrated greater learner benefits in terms of efficiency and outcome than complex feedback”(Shute, 2007).

Wait, didn’t we just read that elaboration was helpful?

Yes, but it turns out poorly written or garbled feedback increases the chances that students will ignore it. So, where’s the sweet spot? The simple feedback rule of thumb is if your students won’t follow your logic, they won’t apply your feedback. Simplicity is less about length and more about accessibility to the content, the voice of the feedback. By carefully and thoughtfully composing feedback for clarity, you can simplify while providing the necessary level of detail (and not more).

Keep your eye on the ball

Feedback is most successful when focused on a specific task. Task-level feedback “typically provides more specific and timely (often real-time) information to the student about a particular response to a problem or task compared to summary feedback, and it may additionally take into account the student’s current understanding and ability level” (Shute, 2007).

So rather than giving feedback on an entire project or as a summation of all the feedback you might give, providing specific advice throughout the learning process and on specific steps in that process is more effective because it supplies more specific and more immediate feedback.

“Formative feedback that focuses the learner on aspects of the task promotes learning and achievement” (Shute, 2007).

Is oral or written feedback better?

To speak or not to speak? That is the question. Feedback can be given in a lot of different ways. If you’re teaching a more creative discipline, consider giving your feedback orally. Oral feedback provides for quicker, more immediate interactions between learner and educator, allowing the learner to ask for clarification, boosting the efficacy of the feedback in “complex, creative work.”

“Where possible, teachers may need to use oral forms of feedback more often in creative disciplines as a means of communicating both the explicit and tacit knowledge associated with complex, creative work” (Budge, 2011).

To direct or guide

Two options for the type of feedback you give are direct (directive) and indirect (facilitative). “Directive feedback tells the student what needs to be fixed or revised. Such feedback tends to be more specific than facilitative feedback, which provides comments and suggestions to help guide students in their own revision and conceptualization” (Shute, 2007).

Depending on learner level, you may choose to give direct or indirect feedback. “When testing different types of feedback, Clariana (1990) argued that low ability students benefit from correct-response feedback more than from try-again feedback” (Shute, 2007). In this case, correct-response feedback would be direct feedback and try-again feedback would be facilitative.

Should I use a rubric?

Yes, use a rubric. It’s pretty simple: student participants of a study on online feedback and learning “recommended the use of rubrics, and that educators refer to them in feedback (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015). If applicable, take a look at the tech tools you use in your classes. Are there ways to incorporate feedback in those tools?

Questions can be effective feedback

Don’t forget to ask. Sometimes giving feedback has less to do with giving and more to do with guiding. (Facilitative feedback, remember?) “The quality of learner writing performance improved the most with the use of epistemic feedback and epistemic + suggestive feedback (Guasch, Espasa, Alvarez, & Kirshner, 2013). This evidence supports the intervention that asking a question to promote critical thinking in learners is an effective feedback skill for educators to incorporate in their practice” (Leibold & Schwartz, 2015).

So before you move from the verification step to elaboration, consider asking the learner something that could help them arrive at the solution on their own.

Want to learn more about giving feedback? Read How Formative Feedback Improves Learning

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