Giving Feedback to Students

Wherever teaching and learning are happening, there are feedback loops. With writing assignments, the loop often goes something like this:

  • Students are given a prompt, perhaps relatively close to a deadline for submission
  • Students write and submit a writing assignment
  • An instructor returns the assignment with a grade and, perhaps, some written feedback.

All well and good. It raises the question, though: What—or what could be—happening (or happening more intentionally) before, during, and after this “local” feedback loop? Specifically, how can we make this back and forth of feedback between students and teachers as legible as possible, so that it becomes part of an ongoing, open dialogue between students and teachers about who’s learning what and how to improve.

As an example, let’s imagine what the elements of a more continuous “global” feedback loop might look like for the first unit in a semester-long course:

Creating an environment for feedback →

  • General goals, expectations, and community norms are laid out in a syllabus, all of which lays the foundation for a dialogue with students about their learning and your teaching.
  • Students complete a survey that asks them about their experiences with writing, ideally asking them about their experience with the kinds of writing that will happen in the upcoming course.

For an in-depth look at this element of giving feedback, see "Creating an Environment for Feedback."

Sharing rubrics →

  • Students go over the first assigned writing prompt (which either includes a rubric or serves as the basis for one) with their TFs early in the term, ideally before a lot of the readings or lectures that will lead up to the assignment have taken place.
  • Ample class time, whether lecture or section, is spent working on the skills students will need to engage with the writing assignment.

For an in-depth look at this element of giving feedback, see "Creating and Sharing Rubrics."

Formative assignments and peer review →

  • Lower-stakes formative assignments will give students the chance to a) practice elements of the assignment (e.g., drafting a thesis, doing a short "elevator pitch" of their main ideas, imagining possible counterarguments to their argument) and b) get ungraded feedback from instructors or peers
  • Based on the feedback instructors get from these formative assignments, lecture and/or section planning will adapt in the direction of giving students whatever additional instruction and practice they'll need before they engage with the broader scope of the writing assignment. 

For an in-depth look at these elements of giving feedback, see "Formative Assignments" and "Peer Review."  

Written feedback on assignments →

  • Students write and submit a draft, and then
  • They get feedback tied to a shared rubric (that is itself based on the prompt), ideally ungraded written feedback and/or a chance to conference with their TF/instructor.
  • Based on this feedback, students revise and resubmit their writing assignment. 

For an in-depth look at this element of giving feedback, see "Written Feedback." 

Grading →

  • An instructor returns the assignment with written feedback.
  • Ideally, this feedback consists of margin comments and a feedback letter that are a) tied to a stable rubric and b) correspond transparently to a grade

For an in-depth look at this element of giving feedback, see "Grading." 

Transition to the next unit....

  • Instructors know where students are at, based on the evidence provided by this assignment, and
  • Students have a sense of how to apply the feedback they’ve received on this assignment to the next unit’s assignment(s)—or maybe life beyond this course.

The advantage of breaking down the feedback loop this way is straightforward: it maximizes the chances that your assignment is giving you feedback about what students are learning in your class, which in turn allows instructors to give students—and themselves—the most effective feedback about what’s working and what needs work.

For an in-depth and practical look at all of these elements of feedback, see the pages for TFs & TAs on "Giving Feedback to Students."