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The Importance of Feedback

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Feedback is an essential part of the learning process and it comes in a variety of forms: positive, negative, constructive, written, verbal, the list goes on. At its best, feedback is informational. Ideally, it is used to communicate what went well, what didn’t go so well, and how improvements can be made. Feedback is an important component in helping to promote success among students.

Grades are perhaps the most obvious form of feedback. However, they can be meaningless to students if they are not accompanied by some sort of relevant explanation. Some motivated students will inquire about the meaning behind the letter grade, however, the majority of students will accept it and move on. A simple letter grade provides limited feedback about the extent to which a student succeeded, without explaining why or how they got there. Here are a few things to consider when providing feedback for students:

Lead with positive feedback about what went right. Pick out a few main points or ideas and make it known that these sorts of things will also bring success in the future. Follow this up with what went wrong. Positive feedback is important, but too much undeserved positive feedback may give students a false idea of how they are actually performing. That’s why it is critical to let students know exactly where they went wrong so that they are able to improve on future attempts. When applicable, it is beneficial to include a note on what the goal should be for the future. A short summary is a helpful roadmap that students can use on upcoming projects and papers. Verbal feedback is not always possible, so it is important to provide students with written feedback that they can reference at a later time.

One difficult aspect about providing feedback is that it takes time. Giving thoughtful feedback to every student may make being efficient with time a difficult thing to do. In this case group feedback is a valuable teaching tool. Identifying a common pattern of missed questions or points can reveal what needs to be elaborated on in future lesson plans. When giving group feedback it is helpful to identify common mistakes or misconceptions and address them accordingly. This type of feedback is especially useful for multiple-choice tests or other formats that don’t require more individualized answers.

At its core, feedback is about communication. Effective feedback clearly communicates the positives and negatives of a piece of material. Providing students with clear and honest feedback is an essential part of the learning process, and supplying quality feedback may mean the difference between their future improvement and their academic stagnation. Clear and accurate feedback is just one more tool that students can use to be successful.  Whether it is written, verbal, individual, or given to a group, feedback is a means for teachers to communicate with their students about how assignment and test standards were met and what improvements can be made to better meet those standards. By modeling the process of how to give good feedback, students will learn how to be more effective communicators.


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