5 tips for giving better feedback for increased learning

Giving feedback can be tricky. It can start conflicts, but it can also provide direction and spark epiphanies.

Here at Peergrade we are passionate about maximizing students’ learning outcomes through great, written peer feedback.

We have written about the importance of getting feedback previously but giving feedback is just as important. Learning how to give better feedback will leave you with an important skill for future use.

This article focuses on the five ways in which you can give effective, focused, and well-grounded written feedback.

1 . Stay Focused

Have you ever been given feedback along the lines of “Adequate,” “Good,” “Confusing” or “Your sentences start weirdly.” These are all examples of unfocused feedback that are difficult to understand and convert into action.

When giving feedback, you want to provide clear direction through actionable and text-specific comments instead. For instance, “What’s your main point here?”, “If you disagree, put that idea up front and explain,” “Consider integrating these ideas” or “Be more specific. Say where and when.”

You should make sure that you comment on both what is important and what the person receiving the feedback is able to control.

2. Be Timely

There are few things more annoying than being told “You should have done this” or “If you had included this essential point it would have been perfect” once you have already concluded a course or handed in the final assignment. Rather than at the end, feedback given along the journey of learning provides a better understanding of the subject matter when you need it most and enables you to make changes before it is too late. Using tools like peergrade.io can help to make the feedback timely and current.

When it comes to peer feedback it is important to provide it before you and your peer forget the subject matter, before other assignments requires your attention, and before the potential learning outcome becomes obsolete.

3. Create A Positive Experience

I think we can all agree that the goal of feedback is increasing the learning outcome and development of the recipient of feedback. Being clear in your feedback seems obvious, but maintaining a positive experience for the receiver of feedback is easy to overlook and also harder to get right.

It is necessary to understand that the purpose of giving feedback is not to drag anyone down; it is not about pointing out flaws, but rather seeing possibilities of improvement and whether or not you are on the right track. This is not the same as being overly positive and only focusing on good things. But creating a comfortable atmosphere of trust and respect which helps with delivering difficult feedback and also to make sure that the feedback is listened to and accepted. Writing things like “You showed me how well you understand the model when you explained how it helped you structure your data and gain valuable insight,” makes it really clear where you find the ‘good stuff’ and what is so great about it.

Feedback is also a balancing act and can only be effective when it is given in a constructive and encouraging manner. Speaking your mind and claiming statements like “This is absolutely terrible! Have you even put any effort into this?” will not have any beneficial value neither to you nor the person receiving your feedback.

It is important to avoid sarcasm and use simple (understandable) language in your feedback, as the person receiving the feedback is more likely to accept and learn from your comments.

4. Be Specific

— Provide Specific Suggestions About What To Do Next

When giving feedback, it is equally important to present specific suggestions on how the person could continue improving the assignment and subject matter. Think about what steps the person should take to move their work to the next level.

Reviewing someone’s work and providing them with possible solutions to approaching the topic will motivate the person and further their learning experience.

5. Look At Things From Different Angles

Using De Bono’s Thinking Hats

De Bono suggests using the metaphor of colored hats to think from different perspectives, focusing on one perspective, or one hat, at a time. For example, put on the yellow hat and think only about the good things in the peers work. Putting on the green will help you focus on creativity and look for new and different ways your peer can approach the assignment. While the black hat will encourage careful evaluation, taking a hard look at the potential weaknesses to an argument.

The Takeaway

Valuable feedback doesn’t have to be rare. Being focused, timely, specific and positive will help you create feedback that can spur your peer’s learning to the next level. Make sure to share this article so your peers will return the favor with equally brilliant feedback.

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Still Curious? Here’s Where We Got Our Inspiration From!

  1. Providing feedback for student learning; Using eVALUate to improve student learning; Curtin University of Technology; Studies in Higher Education
  2. Giving Feedback; Keeping Team Member Performance High, and Well-Integrated; Mind Tools; https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_98.htm
  3. Strategies to enhance peer feedback, Assessment for Learning; http://www.assessmentforlearning.edu.au/professional_learning/peer_feedback/peer_strategies_enhance.html
  4. Formative assessment and selfregulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice Vol. 31, No. 2, April 2006, pp. 199–218; David J. Nicola and Debra Macfarlane-Dick; http://web.iaincirebon.ac.id/ebook/Indrya/Assesmen/Formative%20assessment%20and%20self-regulated%20learning.pdf
  5. Assessment for Learning, Sally Brown, Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, Issue 1, 2004–05; http://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/AcademicStudentAffairs/CentreforEducationalDevelopment/FilestoreDONOTDELETE/Filetoupload,120807,en.pdf
  6. Giving better feedback for better performance. Go beyond ‘good job!’ to help people learn and thrive; Dr. Kristen Swanson, Director of Learning at Slack; June 2016; https://slackhq.com/giving-better-feedback-for-better-performance-3eab4036562b#.odecv8pur