Making feedback more valuable
Of all the hullabaloo over grading in red pen in my last blog post, the most important question was asked by John Aiken:
Do you find that your students get something out of written feedback? Does the feedback include a reduction in grade? I have found that my students don’t really read the feedback or care about it for the most part. They just look at the grade and then move on hoping for better luck next time. I have found my students learn the most when I spend my efforts on trying to help them learn in class instead of getting them to understand my comments on where they went wrong. How do you get your students to read and care about your feedback? Or do they just do it naturally?
I wrote a comment directly to the post, but I wanted to put it here so that maybe it might generate a bit more conversation for John. This is something I still struggle with, and it occurs to me that it’s been a while since I’ve asked my students how useful my feedback is. Look for me to give some updates in this regard soon.
This to me is the big question—how do we make our feedback more useful to students. It’s why I recently posted a set of graded assessments on my blog, and it’s also why I’m trying to work a lot with having students give themselves feedback. To get students to really use my feedback I think I have to do a few things.
First, and most importantly, my feedback needs to be more than just what you did wrong—it needs to put them on the path to correcting their mistake and understanding the concept more deeply.
Two, I have to create a system in my class where they can derive real benefit from engaging my feedback. This is where SBG comes in. When I used to just grade tests and give them back with no opportunity to show improved understanding, either through corrections or reassessment, I think it’s hard for students who are struggling the most to look 3-4 months down the road and “I’ll be tested on this again, so I better put the time in to master it now.” I know this is an important thing for students to do, but I just think for our weakest students, who are facing a million other challenges and distractions, I can make it much more likely for them to use my feedback if there’s a immediate (or at least very soon) chance to show increased understanding, either in the form of corrections or reassessments.
Finally, I think it’s not a bad exercise to ask students what they are they are getting from your feedback. This could be a short survey in class asking them how they used the feedback on the last assessment, and what suggestions they might have for how you could improve the feedback you give them. Here’s a really great blog post from a math teacher at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn where he describes the great benefits he saw from asking students to describe what sort of feedback they’d like on their assignments. That he was able to get meaningful responses from the youngest students should tell us that this type of introspection is possible at almost any age (and certainly among the high school and college students we teach). Also, this approach of asking students what type of feedback they want promises to reduce a lot of the wasted effort in our own grading, while at the same time benefiting student understanding more.