Components of Effective Feedback

Feedback is a valuable tool in providing students with information so they can improve their skills and abilities. It can be formal and informal, ranging from the comments you write on a student's essay or exam, to the over-the-shoulder help you offer in a lab, to the verbal and body language messages that you provide when students participate in discussions. It is essential that feedback is given in a sincere, honest, and constructive manner in order to not be harmful to the student or discussion atmosphere. The following components of effective feedback help to support student learning and foster reflexive teaching practices:

Feedback should be Objective rather than evaluative.

  • Limit descriptions to what was said and done, or how it was accomplished. Avoid assumptions about motive or intent. By avoiding evaluative language, students are less likely to react defensively.

Feedback should be Constructive.

  • Providing a positive learning environment, where students can feel comfortable when making mistakes is important. Learning is more effective when positive/constructive feedback is provided. Constructive feedback builds on individual strengths and provides ideas for the individual to continue improving on his or her own skills. For example, following an unorganized student presentation, feedback from the TA should not focus on how unorganized the ideas were, but instead should focus on a strength followed by some ideas on how to improve the presentation. For instance you might say "you are a well spoken presenter, perhaps in future presentations you might consider providing an outline of your ideas during the introduction. This may assist the audience in following your presentation."

Feedback should be Specific rather than general.

  • To be told that one is 'dominating' is not as useful as being told that "in the discussion that just took place, you did not incorporate any of the other ideas into the initial suggestion and I felt forced to accept your arguments." Focus on specific ideas that the student can work on and with.

Feedback should focus on Changeable Behaviors.

  • Focus on what the person does rather than on what you imagine he or she is (for example, nervousness). For example you could say "I noticed that you spoke a lot about the inadequacy of the old evaluation system but made no contribution towards a possible solution," rather than "you're a cynic." The former allows for a possibility of change while the latter implies a fixed behavioral trait.

Feedback involves giving information rather than advice. The assumption is that students want to perform well and the feedback mechanism is one of collaboration or coaching. With the right information students will adjust behaviors and actions to improve their performance (and grades). Giving feedback of this type gives the student responsibility for change.