WHY WON’T STUDENTS READ/USE THE FEEDBACK I GIVE?

A complaint I hear over and over again from faculty is “What can I do to make my students read and use the feedback I give them?”  Faculty and teachers spend so much time giving detailed feedback and notes on assignments only to find the returned work in the trash.  That’s because, to the students, the assignment is OVER.  They look at the assignment long enough to find out their grade then they are done.  To them, that assignment (and learning) is over and in the can, along with the graded assessment.

 

SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?

The most important thing is to determine WHY you are giving feedback.  

Is it to justify the grade you’ve given or to cover your hide (grade-centered approach) or is for the students to improve and learn (learning-centered approach).  Both are fine, but Grade-centered normally focuses retrospectively on the errors made and what was wrong with the assessment and therefore, a student is never going to read that or take anything away from that type of feedback.  Learning-centered feedback focuses on suggestions for future practice.  The other issue is that, even if we are giving future practice comments on a completed assignment, many times the student won’t need to apply that feedback until the next assessment which can be some time in the future.  By that time the feedback is out of the student’s mind.

Learning-centered feedback (formative) should be given DURING the assessment and the students should use it to BETTER their final assessment (summative).  During this process, the intense reading and markup is done at the formative stage.  For the final assessment, you, as the instructor, just read it and grade it.

In my research on this subject everyone seems to say the same thing over and over again.  The #1 way to get students to read their feedback is to

DELAY THE GRADE!

Whether is a draft or a final assignment, when you return them only give the feedback.  Don’t include a rubric or a checklist or grades.  Students are more likely to read the comments to try to discern their grade.  You will then release the grade at a later time.

This is only one method below are more you can try.

Top 5 Strategies to Get Students to Read and Use Feedback

  1. Don’t provide a grade with your feedback.
    No rubrics, no checklists, no grades.  Only you’re commented feedback.   
     
  2. Explain the purpose of the feedback 
    Why do you give feedback and what is your expectation of them to read and use the feedback?  When they know why or how you expect them to use it they are more likely to read it.
     
  3. Build a connection from the feedback to the revision.
    Have the students read the feedback and make three observations and two questions based on your feedback.  You could also have them make the changes in the final assessment then write a brief paper of how using the feedback improved the final assessment or what they changed as a result of the feedback and what they learned from those changes.  You are basically requiring them to read and use the feedback as part of the process.
     
  4. Use a mix of feedback styles
    Try different feedback forms on different assignments such as text, audio, video, in person, interviews.  Mixing it up keeps the students on their toes.
     
  5. Prevent feedback overload.
    Don’t mark up every tiny thing that is wrong with a paper.  Focus on the most important things you want your students to glean and improve from your feedback (2-3 things) and mark only those.  Try the Sandwich technique: compliment; changes; compliment.

    If you’re giving multiple assignments where feedback will be given then consider scaffolding your method.  The first assignment, give the feedback but teach your students how to revise their work based on that feedback.  Then move to a place where you are leaving them on their own to fix it.  This is particularly important for younger students and college freshmen.

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