In Ken Bain’s 2004 study of college faculty, he found that highly effective instructors believe that their students want to and are able to learn. These faculty build trusting relationships through their teaching and mentoring practices. As part of this mindset, we should assume that students care about getting meaningful feedback because it helps them build confidence in themselves as learners. Mutual communication between students and their instructor about the educational process goes a long way to build the relationships of trust that encourage curiosity and engagement (Bain, 2004).
We know that the right kinds of feedback at the right times can motivate people to improve. Feedback is not the same as criticism; it should be clear, specific, balanced, timely, and focused on growth and development. Formative feedback provides an opportunity to learn and improve. Grades are a form of summative assessment, and also should be kept up-to-date with details available to students.
Be clear and transparent about your expectations. Be specific about what you expect and what resources are available when students get stuck. Include clear grading policies and procedures for submitting assignments in your syllabus. Create a timeframe for when all assignments or tests will be graded and returned to students and stick to it. Create rubrics for major assignments and use them as a way of communicating your expectations when you explain the assignment.
Give early and regular feedback. Students need regular feedback on their performance, so they know how to focus their studies, when to work harder, and when to ask for help. Early and regular feedback can help students stay motivated and on track with their work. To be effective, students need to know what they are doing well, what they need to work on, and how they can improve. Use specific and constructive language.
It is good practice to return all graded assignments and poste grades within 7 to 10 days; students need to be able to correct their errors, so they do not build new knowledge on misunderstandings. It can also be hard for students to move on to the next learning activity when they do not know how well they are doing.
You do not have to grade everything students do! Feedback can be informal and ungraded. Assign a series of brief, low stakes assignments in the first couple of weeks of the semester. Use iClickers or short Canvas quizzes for quick checks of understanding. One-minute papers or other short writing assignments can be a way for students to practice skills and get feedback on their learning.
Organize course assessments so that you can provide a course grade at midterm. Midterm is a good time to check in because there is still time for students to make changes. Help students do this by providing enough opportunities to build a solid grade. Midterm is also a good time to get feedback from your students about how the course is going and ways you can improve your instruction.
Worried about a student? CU instructors can enter Course Alerts for students who are demonstrating poor performance in their classes. This early alert strategy puts a support system in place for students who need assistance.
Use technology. There are many technology options for communicating grades and providing feedback. Canvas offers robust tools for maintaining an updated gradebook. You can import attendance records from Zoom, upload your CUClickers grades, and so much more. OIT can help you any time you get stuck.
Quality and timely feedback are integral components of student success, but it can be a time-consuming process. Here are some time-saving approaches you can utilize with or without technology:
- Rubrics: They are not only helpful for your own grading, but also provide students with a clear understanding of the evaluation criteria before they begin an assignment. The use of rubrics also aligns with an inclusive approach to feedback in that grading becomes more transparent to students and less prone to bias. You can create rubrics for various types of assignments and assessments within Canvas.
- Peer Review: This is most effective when students evaluate one another’s work on scaffolded assignments that provide many opportunities for feedback. To save time, you could ask peers to evaluate the earliest drafts to give students time to make improvements before submitting their final version to you for grading. You can strategically assign students in groups within Canvas or have the system choose the students at random. It is also important to share peer review guidelines with your class prior to assigning reviews.
There are four key qualities of good feedback that are critical to student success and support inclusive teaching:
- Frequent: provide students at least one opportunity a week to receive your feedback. Giving feedback on frequent, low-stakes assignments or assessments is an inclusive practice because it reduces anxiety and gives students opportunities to receive frequent feedback on new skills and knowledge. In large courses, teaching assistants could help manage the feedback load.
- Specific: Offer your students actionable advice. Rather than writing or stating, “this needs work”, provide them with specific feedback on how they can improve.
- Balanced: use the “feedback sandwich” approach by providing students with corrective feedback sandwiched between positive feedback. Much like corrective feedback, letting your students know WHAT they are doing well, rather than writing or stating “good job” is important to consider.
- Timely: Studies have shown that feedback given beyond 2-15 days is much less helpful, because students have moved on to other topics and learning activities; therefore, feedback should be given as soon as possible.
Here are some useful tips on how to use technology to better evaluate and comment on students’ work:
- By embedding comments into papers, you can walk students through all of your concerns and show them exactly how to do something or what it should look like. An annotation feature is available in Canvas through “speed grader” that will allow for you to accomplish this.
- Audio comments may be your best bet for providing fast feedback by quickly recording your voice. This feedback tool is also available in Canvas within the comment feature in “speed grader”.
- Providing video feedback may be the best solution to help students through a complicated problem with multiple steps. You can take advantage of the recording feature in Canvas within “discussions”.
It may also be helpful to simply ask your students what they think about your feedback practices. Asking students their views help put the power back in their hands over their own learning, thereby fostering an inclusive environment. You can increase the odds of learning which feedback methods work best for your students by granting them anonymity via a survey or a poll.
Further Reading & Resource:
Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Harvard University Press.
Wiggins, G. (2012, September). Seven keys to effective feedback. Feedback for Learning, 70(1), 10-16.
Creating and Using Rubrics – CU Center for Teaching & Learning