4.3 Giving feedback

The fundamentals

The aim of any feedback is to inform the students about the strengths of their work and to identify areas for development in future work. So, in setting both the criteria and any kind of feedback format, focus on giving students feedback that will help them in the future and enable them to understand why they got the mark they did. (It is worth giving some thought as to whether the 'future' might mean their next course essay, exam preparation or preparing detailed ideas to come through well in a forthcoming interview for getting on to a higher degree). One question students often ask is 'How could I upgrade this answer from a 2:2 to a 2:1?' If you are unfamiliar with UK university degree classifications, see the Glossary at  Section 11|, which sets out the classification boundaries and percentage 'equivalents' used at LSE.

Make sure that your feedback is timely. There is plenty of research evidence that indicates that the closer the feedback is to the actual doing of a piece of work, the more the student can learn from it. Within LSE, for course work submitted on time, students can expect a two-week turnaround time and most class teachers try to turn work around in one week. See the Code of Practice on Teaching, Learning and Assessment for Undergraduates|, (www.lse.ac.uk/resources/calendar/academicRegulations/codeOfGoodPracticeForUndergraduateProgrammesTeachingLearningAndAssessment.htm|), paragraph 2.9. If students hand in the work late, then this 'contract' goes and you can decide on what might be reasonable. But remember that the longer the delay, the less they are likely to get from your feedback.

In the case of courses using weekly problem sets, class teachers are advised to check what the expectations are, both for students to turn work in, and for it to be marked. The ideal is weekly hand-in and turnaround of marked papers, but this is often not a formal requirement.

You will need to consider how much of the feedback you give to students is done in writing - note that one of the easiest ways to engage students with written feedback is to type it, as students often complain they can't read handwriting! - and how much is done through discussion in office hours (see next two sections for specific advice on both).

Whether you are giving written or verbal feedback, it helps if you can be as positive and constructive as possible. Making use of the 'feedback sandwich' will help you do this.

  • Start with finding something positive to comment on.
  • Where criticism will be helpful, give clear ideas as to what to do next time. For a piece of work you consider to be particularly poor, think through what might best be tackled first by the student. Select maybe three or four key things to work on and don't overwhelm him/her with every mistake – be realistic in terms of what they could work on and improve next time. Use future work to tackle other issues.
  • Finish with a positive point.

You may also want to read the Teaching and Learning Centre's notes of guidance on feedback:

 

  • Making best use of pro-forma for essay feedback
  • Giving collective feedback on exams
  • Giving feedback on oral presentations 
  • Giving feedback on quantitative work

 

as well  as an A5 leaflet for students, Making feedback work for you|  an and Using feedback form exam preparation. All are available at lse.ac.uk/tlc/resources|.Hard copies can be requested from the Teaching and Learning Centre by emailing tlc@lse.ac.uk|

I try to offer helpful feedback in any useful format. For this purpose I experimented with the Moodle function to record feedback on essays as an audio file using Wimba Voice. It is an easy-to-use piece of technology that allows me to give more nuanced advice, faster. At the beginning I felt a bit funny talking to myself as I recorded the comment, but after a while I got used to it and managed to record a lot more than I could have written down in the same time. Most of my students really like it. I think that is because it is a relatively personal form of giving feedback and you can still reach those students who never come to an office hour with it.

Social Psychology GTA

 

I use three methods to provide feedback to unassessed essays:

  • Individual written feedback – to identify three key issues for each student to address so that they achieve higher marks.
  • Group email – to outline general problems, so that no student feels they have done uniquely poorly.
  • Circulation of anonymised best essay, with the author's permission, explaining why the essay achieved a high mark.

Geography GTA

Remember too that good use can be made of Moodle and other tools for giving feedback. If assignments are collected via Moodle, it is easy to return feedback to students via Moodle, either as a test or as an audio file. You might also like to consider turning weekly problem sets into a quiz on Moodle, which automates the entire process, including feedback. Turnitin, the text matching and plagiarism prevention tool, can also be used to provide feedback to students. See Section 8.1| for more about Turnitin and Moodle and contact the Centre for Learning Technology (CLT) for advice on making best use of them as feedback tools.

 

Giving written feedback

Below is a brief set of pointers you may wish to consider on content and style of feedback (adapted from pp.20-22 of OU: Teaching in HE (H851), Chapter 4).

  • Feed forward – give feedback that the student can use to develop and improve.
  • Say why something is a problem, not just what the problem is. For example, perhaps especially on quantitative subjects, you might want to draw their attention to a method or concept (such as Lagrangian optimisation, partial differentiation). You might also want to give the student a reference to a book or other source, with a precise suggestion to look at a few identified pages or short sections.
  • If something is worrying you, check it out. For instance, do you suspect the student is dyslexic? has shared work? has plagiarised work from printed or web-based sources?
  • Clearly link the grade and the comments you make.
  • Indicate how they could most readily improve their grade and help them prioritise.
  • Clarify whether you are giving your opinion or stating fact/theory.
  • Write feedback they will understand – use appropriate language and ensure it is legible.
  • Be clear about the annotation you put on their work. Avoid using single words or general phrases like "more discussion", "literature", "references", and instead consider how students can learn from your comments and do better next time, for instance by writing "You need more literature here, eg … " (and give examples of the sort of literature you mean).

And wherever possible, be clear about whether you are:

  • correcting mistakes (NB for dyslexic students, comment on strengths and avoid emphasising known weaknesses, such as spellings or poor structure);
  • helping them improve on presentation/style (don't feel you have to correct every detail);
  • getting them to understand the question;
  • giving encouragement/praise.

In this context, think about and check out the extent to which non-native English speakers want detailed feedback on the quality of their written English, and your capacity for doing this. There is support both for English for Academic Purposes and proof-reading via the Language Centre (see Section 10| for contact details).

Giving verbal feedback

In addition to written feedback, many class teachers encourage students to visit them in office hours for further verbal feedback on their work. The approach you use here can be distinctively different from your written feedback, focusing on working with the students to enable them to verbalise their understanding and misunderstandings. Again, here are a few pointers on how you might approach giving verbal feedback:

  • Encourage the student to ask questions.
  • Invite them to paraphrase: What did they really mean to say? How do they understand the question?
  • Invite them to react ... Do they think your analysis is fair? (NB Be clear this is an opportunity for clarification, not negotiation over marks!)
  • Check out student assumptions about assessment, especially with students who have studied in universities elsewhere (you may find it useful to ask if you can see some previous work). What have they been expected to do in the past? Because they are at LSE, it is likely that they will have been very successful in past assessments. If they are no longer being successful, you might need to help them overcome past assumptions, before they can build for the future.
  • Where necessary, refer students for special support. For instance, for language problems, encourage students to use the Language Centre; if the students have difficulty with quantitative subjects, encourage them to use the one-to-one study advice for students facing numeracy/quantitative study problems offered by the Teaching and Learning Centre (see Section 10 for contact details for both of these). Watch out for spelling/structure discrepancies between class and written work as the student might have dyslexia (see Section 4.5 for more on this). 

The Teaching and Learning Centre's Making best use of essay pro-forma (see lse.ac.uk/tlc/resources) | (see lse.ac.uk/tlc/resources|) includes examples of teachers providing written feedback without the grade and then using office hours to provide the grade and have a more detailed discussion about the essay. Check with your course tutor if they are happy for you to do this.

Giving feedback on student presentations 

Many undergraduate courses now require students to make a presentation during one of the classes associated with a particular course. These represent an excellent opportunity to give them feedback on a key skill You will be expected to comment on the content of what a student has talked about, but you can also, very helpfully, comment on how they presented their work too. In giving feedback you should always try to:

  • be clear,
  • be honest,
  • be specific, and
  • BE ENCOURAGING.

Remember, the best kind of feedback is that which causes an improvement in the student's next presentation (not feedback that shows how clever you are!). People are more likely to take your feedback seriously and act upon it if they receive balanced feedback. Try to give a mixture of positive, reinforcing feedback (eg 'I really liked your relaxed manner and you spoke very clearly - that was good, keep doing it like that') and constructive criticism (eg, 'Your structure was a little unclear, and you didn't include a summary or conclusion at the end. Next time, remember to think about the key points you would like to leave your audience thinking about at the end. This is important as it is the last thing they will hear from you.').

The Teaching and Learning Centre has produced a document called Giving feedback on oral presentations that provides lots of useful guidance as well as a sample pro-forma for written feedback, reproduced at Appendix 3|.

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