Feeding Learning: Mark better work, in less time

In the last two decades we’ve learned a lot about feedback.  We know Our Learning Charter tells us that as educators, we’ve agreed to “Provide prompt and constructive feedback for students on their learning progress at regular intervals throughout the course.” What does that actually mean, and why does it matter?

What do we know about prompt feedback?

  1. The most useful feedback occurs early on in the learning process (formative), not at the end (summative), because feedback is most useful when students do not yet have mastery. In both cases, feedback closer to when the task is completed is usually more useful.
  2. When students have clear criteria or examples to compare themselves to, they can give themselves early feedback.  This is important because the feedback is more timely, and it requires less work from educators.
  3. Students with high agency are more likely to understand, act on, and internalize feedback they receive. Prompt feedback increases student feeling of agency, but only when a student can still alter their work.  Feedback that occurs so late that it can only be used for another course you take in this subject is rarely used by any students.

What do we know about constructive feedback?

Constructive feedback is feedback that helps students improve.  Educators report giving feedback much more often than student report receiving it, especially if it is directed to the whole class, as most students assume it does not apply to them.  In order to improve student results, the best feedback is:

  1. Focused on the goal of the task: Rather than saying how well you did relative to others, the feedback is directly focused on the knowledge or skills student were trying to demonstrate by doing the assignment or test.
  2. Actionable: The feedback tells the student information how to make changes, not just what to change, and is timely enough it is possible to actually make the changes.
  3. Individual: The feedback tells each student what they will need to do to improve, rather than generalizing about what students in general could do.
  4. Designed to be heard: The feedback is framed in a way that is positive, but still describes how to improve over time. It uses simple language so students who have been confused are likely to be more clear about how to improve over time.
  5. Agentic: The feedback uses language that implies student agency in solving issues.  For example, asking questions designed to promote reflection about a specific issue and its impact or praising a place int he student work where something has been do correctly and noting other places that need to be done the same way.

Yeah, but who has the time…

The process of giving early feedback is time consuming, but so it marking terrible student work, or writing notes on an end of term essay that no one will ever read.  Some tips to save time:

  • Construct clear criteria and have student self-assess against it in class. Practice with a sample as a large class, then give students time to assess their own work individually. It takes a bit of class time and saves you a lot of marking time.
  • Use peers to give feedback on early drafts.  It avoids all the issues of peer marking, because it is just feedback, and is more timely than summative feedback at the end of an assignment or project.
  • Use well-written rubrics because bad ones don’t have the same benefits. Rubrics are especially important if more than one person is marking your students’ work.  Good rubrics, even single-point ones, can clarify what students did wrong and how they can improve. They also save time and create greater consistency amoung markers.

You can read more tips about efficient marking in other posts.

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  1. Pingback: Featured instructor: Martin Gaal | Educatus

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