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Center for Teaching Excellence

  • Professor Grading

Importance of Providing Meaningful Student Feedback

Feedback is any response regarding a student’s performance or behavior. It can be verbal, written or gestural. The purpose of feedback in the assessment and learning process is to improve a student’s performance - not put a damper on it.  It is essential that the process of providing feedback is a positive, or at least a neutral, learning experience for the student. Negative feedback can discourage student effort and achievement. Instructors have the distinct responsibility to nurture a student’s learning and to provide feedback in such a manner that the student does not leave the classroom feeling defeated.

Characteristics of Effective Feedback

Educative in Nature
Providing feedback means giving students an explanation of what they are doing correctly AND incorrectly, with the focus of the feedback on what the students is doing right. It is most productive to a student’s learning when they are provided with an explanation as to what is accurate and inaccurate about their work. One technique is to use the concept of a “feedback sandwich” to guide your feedback: Compliment, Correct, Compliment.

Given In a Timely Manner
When student feedback is given immediately after showing proof of learning, the student responds and remembers the experience about what is being learned more positively. If we wait too long to give feedback, the student might not connect the feedback with the learning moment.

Sensitive to the Individual Needs of the Student
It is vital that we take into consideration each individual when giving student feedback. Our classrooms are full of diverse learners. Some students need to be nudged to achieve at a higher level and other needs to be handled gently so as not to discourage learning and damage self-esteem. 

Answers the 4 Questions
Studies of effective teaching and learning (Dinham, 2002, 2007a; 2007b) have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work. Providing answers to the following four questions on a regular basis will help provide quality student feedback. 

  • What can the student do?
  • What can’t the student do?
  • How does the student’s work compare with that of others?
  • How can the student do better?

Provides a Model or Example
Communicate with your students the purpose for an assessment and/or student feedback. Demonstrate to students what you are looking for by giving them an example of what an A+ paper looks like. Provide a contrast of what a C- paper looks like. This is especially important at the upper learning levels.

Suggestions for Effective and Efficient Grading Feedback

The most effective feedback is focused, clear, and considers motivation and learning, not justifying a grade or on copyediting. Below are suggested strategies for providing efficient & effective student feedback.

  • Use comments to teach rather than to justify the grade, focusing on what you’d most like students to address in future work. Link your comments and feedback to the goals for an assignment.
  • Plan early opportunities for students to get feedback on ways of thinking, writing, or problem solving that they will need later, so that they don’t develop or repeat common errors. In-class active or collaborative learning exercises can be good moments to provide formative feedback in class, when students are practicing new skills or learning new concepts.
  • Avoid over-commenting or “picking apart” students’ work.
  • In your final comments, ask questions that will guide further inquiry by students.
  • Think about alternatives to writing comments on every individual student’s work. Provide feedback to the whole class orally and/or in a shared written document, or have the class read sample student work together to look for common themes or apply evaluation criteria.


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