Thanks for the Feedback

Formative Feedback

In a recent tip, we talked about the importance of practice, but practice alone won’t move students toward mastery; they also need feedback. Practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect—practice makes permanent. Without feedback, students risk inscribing inefficient habits and ineffective approaches. (For example, many of them have practiced mistaken study habits for so long that they distrust research-based strategies.)

To help students learn, we have to provide a cycle of practice and feedback. We begin with clear goals—ways that we intend for students to develop intellectually, personally, and/or professionally because of a learning experience. Then, we design the experience (e.g., an in-class activity, an experiment, a field exercise, a project, etc.) so that students have an opportunity to practice accomplishing those goals. By observing students’ efforts, we can collect the information we need to provide targeted feedback.

It’s essential to let students know which goals they have and have not yet accomplished; they need to know what to continue doing and what to change. Then, we can elaborate: If there is something that they have done well, we can let them know why and how their efforts were successful. If there’s something they need to change, we can let them know what they should change, why they should change it, and how to get started.

The feedback we provide only facilitates learning if students have an opportunity to apply it. That’s why the timing of feedback is important: Students need to be able to apply it to their next attempt to accomplish the goal, thus completing the practice and feedback cycle, and allowing students to develop a clearer and clearer picture of what success looks like.

Giving feedback is essential, but it doesn’t have to be burdensome. It can happen during class as you circulate during a small-group activity. It can happen through clicker questions and discussion afterward. It can happen when you respond to minute papers that you collected at the end of the previous class session. With guidance, students can give one another useful feedback.

If you’d like support in providing feedback that’s goal-directed, transparent, motivating, and actionable, please contact us. We look forward to working with you.


Assignment Design Workshop

Friday, February 21st | 10:00 – 12:00 | DIF 432 | Sign up to attend

For support in crafting assignments—projects, papers, exercises, experiences, etc.—that engage students in the kinds of thinking you’d like for them to do, and that help them to produce the kinds of work you’d like to see, please sign up for this hands-on workshop. We can help you revise existing assignments or devise new ones, and we will share resources for describing assignments in ways that are transparent for your students.