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How to give fantastic feedback

Fantastic! Well done! Good job! Great work! Excellent!

How often do you repeat these five phrases in class? And how conscious are you of who you are saying them to and why you are saying them? Well, phrases like these are key forms of feedback in class and are often the main focus of interaction between the teacher and individual students, especially when teaching larger groups.

Feedback is something which we all give, often automatically, without careful thought as to why we are giving it and how it will help students during the lesson in progress, as well as in subsequent lessons. As the title of this blog post suggests, giving fantastic feedback really is something that can make the difference in your lessons, by increasing student motivation and facilitating learning, in equal measure.

How can feedback demotivate students?

The 2014 study What Makes Great Teaching, concluded that lavish praise from teachers does not help pupils and this is an essential piece of information to take into consideration when thinking about how and when to give feedback to our students. Feedback can actually be detrimental to students’ motivation at times, and this can directly affect their performance.

Factors such as having a disinterested tone of voice or not listening to what students are saying are common feedback errors which teachers often make in class. Other aspects such as always focusing on the same student when taking whole-class feedback, not using students’ names and using language that is too difficult for students to understand will also demotivate students during moments of feedback in the lesson.

How can feedback affect key areas of learning?

Motivation is an important aspect of the learning process, and this can be stimulated by the teacher’s good use of feedback in the classroom. This is summed up beautifully in an article I read recently on this topic:

Children are required to go to school. But, at some point, their minds begin to wonder: ‘What am I getting out of it? Why do I have to be here?’ Their motivation comes from assigning value to what they do. Effective feedback from their teacher can be that motivation. 2

So, what can we take from this? Essentially, fantastic feedback provides students with a reason to value the learning process more and to give them the motivation to continue to do so. In a conference talk by JJ Wilson a few years ago, feedback was described as something which not only influences motivation, but creativity, collaboration, persistence, transformation and community, too.

How can teachers make feedback more effective?

Giving feedback effectively boils down to three key principles:

  • Clear goals and progress
  • Clear and immediate feedback
  • Right level of challenge

But how do these principles actually translate into our day-to-day teaching? Here are 10 easy ways of making your feedback as fantastic as possible!

1. Delayed and immediate feedback

Use both delayed and immediate feedback, depending on the activity. If it’s a free speaking task, then feedback is often more effective at the end, so you don’t interrupt the students as they are speaking. However, controlled language practice tasks require immediate feedbackDon’t forget feedback after an activity.

2. Don’t forget feedback after an activity

Each time you conduct an activity in class, it is essential to include a feedback session. Imagine you have asked students to use a specific piece of grammar to make sentences. Give them the chance to share their sentences with their classmates and to receive feedback from you on their use of the particular language objectives of the lesson.

3. Make sure you support your positive feedback with a reason

Empty praise  is of no help to anyone; it needs the support of a good reason. When you are giving feedback, focus on students’ progress and what they were not able to do before, compared to what they can do now.

4. Use set scales for speaking and writing feedback

It is often difficult for teachers to know how to give feedback on writing and speaking activities that is not simply correcting students’ mistakes. A good way to combat this is to refer to the assessment scales used in external exams, or to write them yourself. Give students feedback on how well they have satisfied each of the criterion on the scale.

5. Make full use of peer-feedback

Peer-feedback is a great way of increasing STT (Student Talking Time) and making sure that all students get sufficient feedback on their work. What’s more, giving peer-feedback often motivates students to think more carefully about their own language production as they will probably encounter the same difficulties as their classmates.

6. Ask students to conduct self-evaluation and create their own feedback

Invite students to evaluate their own progress, as self-evaluation helps students to become less dependent on the teacher for guidance; they will start to really think about their performance and how they can reach their goals. 

7. Consider private vs. public feedback

Feedback to individual students doesn’t always need to be in front of the whole class; sometimes it is more effective to talk to students on an individual basis. And don’t ever make students feel uncomfortable in front of their classmates, as this is demotivating.

8. Make sure your positive feedback is genuine

Make absolutely sure your positive feedback is sincere, as students always know when you’re not being honest. It’s also important to avoid the temptation to overpraise low achievers to make them feel better, because this won’t help them in the long term.

9. Make use of verbal and non-verbal feedback

A well-chosen hand signal, such as a classic ‘thumbs up’ can be all the feedback students need to give them the incentive to work hard. Use a variety of verbal and non-verbal feedback methods in class and use gestures when speaking to make your message as clear as possible. Eye contact is also an essential element of effective feedback.

10. Give constructive feedback when monitoring

Monitoring is a great opportunity for the teacher to give specific feedback and to make notes for delayed feedback. Simply pointing at a student’s work and asking them to rethink their answer can be enough of a push for the student to go back and try again. It will also give you great feedback in real-time on how well your students are managing a particular task.



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