Giving effective feedback

By Ian Handsley

Feedback on assessment has a significant impact on the quality of students’ learning experiences – it affects what they learn, but also how they feel about themselves as learners. The challenge is to give constructive criticism while also nurturing self confidence and motivation.

The tips below from offer some ideas for giving effective feedback. Most of them come from The Higher Education Academy, to which we’ve added some tips on dealing with English issues.

Good practice:

  1. It is old advice, but it works! Start and end your summary or analysis with positive comments. Helpful criticism with suggestions for improvement should be sandwiched between them. Remember that part of your role is to support and encourage your students in their learning.
  2. Provide comments that are specific to the student and not generic to the student body.
  3. Give reasons for the grade given.
  4. Explain where marks were lost.
  5. Concentrate on key points.
  6. Treat the student’s work with respect, but be clear and realistic in your comments.
  7. Help the student to organise the structure and content of their answer.
  8. Tell the student what they should do to improve in the future (feed-forward).
  9. Focus on what a student is saying (the argument and reasoning) rather than on how they say it (the English).

What is best avoided:

  1. Comments which are so general and vague as to be meaningless and unhelpful.
  2. Being far too encouraging. The student will be left wondering whether they really did well, whether they should have been given more marks, or whether you are being too kind or even patronising.
  3. Giving equal weight to a minor strength and a major weakness.
  4. Too many negative comments.
  5. Spoon feeding language, ideas or potential sources of information when dealing with drafts

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