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A Reflection on Providing Feedback

Feedback is an essential element of the teaching process. If teaching is considered a cycle in which you deliver a lesson, students attend your lesson, apply what they learned, feedback is step that shows you the results of your teaching effort. On one hand, feedback completes the cycle by making your students aware of how you, as a teacher, assess the outcome of learning. On the other hand, feedback provides you an instance for reflect on the effectiveness of your teaching. This means that providing feedback is equally valuable for teachers and students.

Providing feedback is not an easy task. You need to consider many factors when approaching feedback. I discuss four factors below, reflecting on my own teaching experience:

The time factor

The workload is a crucial factor that affects the nature and extent of feedback. If you are employed in a teaching-intensive academic institution, you may be teaching several classes in a semester. You may also have large classes with more than 100 students, sometimes the number of students can be as high as 300. Providing timely feedback for large classes takes a lot of your time. This can be a challenge, as you are working on your lessons, supervising other projects, and have a list of meetings to attend. As a strategy to standardize the feedback process and save my time, I use a grading rubric, a template that has ready-made feedback categories (e.g,. an excellent project report includes a minimum number of references, makes critical arguments, uses clear and scholarly language). Once you write down those categories, providing feedback is a matter of reading your students’ projects and selecting the appropriate feedback category for each project. This, although saves your time, may not be the best approach in terms of individual (and customized) feedback your students receive. From my experience, some students, those who work hard on their assignments in particular, love to have detailed and specific feedback. On the other hand, those students who struggle, may appreciate detailed and individual feedback. However, standardizing feedback provides an objective basis to evaluate assignments. If you are teaching relatively small classes, I think that spending time on each project helps improve your teaching effectiveness.

The critical factor

If you are in a position to spend considerable time for each project, providing detailed feedback is very important. Language is perhaps the most important factor that affects the effectiveness of teaching. One thing I always keep in my mind when evaluating student work is that most of the students put good effort on their projects. As the assessor, you will be reading all the projects turned in by your students. However, for each student, it is their only (if not a few) project for the class. I believe wholeheartedly that, regardless of the quality, you need to respect the effort each student’s effort in writing the assignment. You need to be critical, but in a nice way. Non-offensive, and constructive, language can help students to understand strengths and weaknesses of their projects. I use what a good friend of mine calls the “sandwich” approach where I start my feedback with a positive statement recognizing good aspects of the assignment. I would then move to a more critical tone and discuss the weaknesses. Finally, I make suggestions on how the work can be improved. This approach has worked, and some students have told me that the feedback is positive, critical, and useful. However, being positive and critical at the same time can be challenging. This is where proper use of language matter.

Equality factor

Treating every student equally is another important factor to keep in mind in the feedback process. Your feedback should be similar in terms of the tone of the language, length (although this can vary, huge differences in length may make some students think that you are not paying enough attention on their work), and structure. Reading a well-written essay written by a student is fun. On the other hand, a weakly written essay, or signs of carelessness, may make be disappointing. However, I think that it is necessary that you keep your objectivity towards every assignment regardless of how happy or upset you feel while you are assessing them.

Chamil Rathnayake

Traversing Bits

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