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Constructive feedback? Ten tips!

Last updated on 13 February 2024
Feedback is an essential part of the learning process and a rich resource for your students' development. But constructive feedback is more than just showing what is right and wrong: for example, you give guiding suggestions or explain how your students can make improvements. What else is needed to give the most effective and constructive feedback possible? Read our ten tips below!

Tip 1: emphasize the positives first
Always start off by mentioning what the student already does well. This teaches the student what he or she is good at, and positive feedback stimulates the student's involvement. In addition, ask one or more questions and offer some suggestions for improvement.

Tip 2: provide the feedback as soon as possible
Provide your feedback as soon as possible after the student handed in the product or displayed the behaviour. Especially with difficult tasks. In any case, provide the feedback before the student starts a follow-up task where he or she can apply the feedback. The Annotate PRO programme can help you give quick feedback on digitally submitted assignments.

Tip 3: give the grade after the student processes the feedback
Only give the grade after the student can process or apply the feedback. For example: the student reads the feedback, comments on the feedback, and gives themselves a grade. Only after that, as a teacher, do you provide your grade. If you already grade their work together with the feedback, they most like won’t look at the feedback any more. Checking assignments with FeedbackFruits Assignment Review and Peer Review will facilitate this process. 

Tip 4: don’t give too much feedback
Don't give too much feedback because then the most important points will get lost: avoid information overload! If you give a lot of feedback, students will filter out what matches their beliefs or expectations. This is because we (unconsciously) more easily accept information that matches what we already believe, rather than information that does not.

Tip 5: be specific
Vague feedback like 'good job' or 'try to do better next time' do not encourage a student to reflect on what is concretely needed to actually do better. If you provide specific and concrete feedback, the student will know what about their work is good and what could be better, they can adjust their behaviour accordingly. For example, if you find information missing in the product, state what kind of information and where. When doing so, give helpful examples in the student's work. For example, don't comment: “You need to back up your thesis with more information.” But, rather say: “This particular argument still lacks substantiation, the articles from lecture two can help.”

Tip 6: only provide feedback on the work and process
Try to focus your feedback on the work and process, while avoiding feedback on the student themselves. This may sound obvious, but it’s not always black and white. For example, it’s better not to say: "You didn't handle that cleverly.” The student may then wonder if you think they’re stupid. Do say, for example: “You didn't follow this particular guideline.”

Tip 7: give feedback on concrete observations
Give feedback on what you observe concretely in the student's work and process, and not on interpretations of this (I-message). Everyone naturally has thoughts and judgements about why a student may have done certain things in a certain way. It's important to be aware of this, so you don't let it factor into your feedback. You never know for sure since it's an assumption. Rather, talk to the student about why they do certain things. For example, don't share your assumption: “You didn't spend much time searching for relevant literature.” But rather ask about the reason behind the observations you make: “I see you haven't mentioned much literature yet, what is the reason for this?”

Tip 8: make sure your students expect feedback
Students are more open to feedback if they expect it. So, it is important to indicate in advance when you are going to provide feedback.

Tip 9: provide feedback on what the students want to grow in
You can strengthen the feedback if you provide it on skills and competencies they want to grow in themselves. For example, when submitting a product, ask students to indicate this in the text. A student might then indicate, for example: “I would like feedback on the structure of this paper, I don't feel confident about it.” Or: “I would like feedback on the incorporation of literature references.” Or: “I don't feel confident that my conclusions are valid based on the results of the experiment.”

Tip 10: give students space to respond
Give the student space to respond to the feedback, or ask for it specifically. This way, you will find out whether students recognize and understand the feedback. In addition, this allows you to deepen the effect of the feedback and encourage their engagement in their education.