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How much feedback is enough?


In this newsletter in January, I wrote about “Deep Understanding.” I am fascinated by this idea of teaching students to think deeply about topics and concepts. Deep Understanding** challenges students to explore academic relationships, to craft answers to problems, and to articulate explanations beyond simplistic answers. 

For students to understand concepts deeply, they benefit from regular, formative feedback from instructors. But the question remains: how much feedback is enough? 

Too little feedback leaves the eager students wondering how they can improve. Too little feedback leaves the deflated students wondering what they did wrong. When students lack concrete feedback on a regular basis, they may feel that the grades are issued arbitrarily. They may wonder if the teacher is measuring their work fairly. 

Too much feedback can be overwhelming. The “old style” of scribbling comments all over the paper with a red pen leaves a paper looking disheveled; no student enjoys reading illegible handwritten comments on their carefully crafted work. Today, with options for electronic feedback, teachers can overwhelm students with too many comments about everything from grammar mistakes to organizational comments.  

As teachers, we make many decisions about how much feedback to give students. Some teachers spend hours carefully giving detailed feedback on organization, grammar, style, and vocabulary. Other teachers write simple comments about selected aspects of students’ work, choosing not to comment on everything.  

Students receive feedback differently. Some students eagerly await detailed feedback. Other students take one look at the grade and one comment at the top of the page, and quickly dismiss the rest. 

The amount and type of feedback likely depends on several factors. 

• Is the assessment formative or summative?  During the term or at the end of a term?

• What are the learning objectives of the assignment? 

• Will students be revising their work based on the feedback? 

• Will you ask students to reflect on your feedback and integrate your feedback in future assignments? 

From a Quality Teaching perspective, the most important question regarding the amount of feedback is: What “deep understanding” is important for the students to wrestle with here and now? How can my feedback lead to a more in-depth understanding of complex knowledge?  

Feedback is teaching; teaching is giving feedback. Learning to give quality feedback is complex, but important skill for all teachers. 

** From the University of Newcastle, the Quality Teaching model defines excellent teaching in the three dimensions of 1) Intellectual Quality, 2) Quality Learning Environment, and 3) Significance. Within the dimension of Intellectual Quality, we consider the concept of “deep understanding.”

Author: Robin Gingerich, Ph.D., MA TESOL Program Director at LCC International University.

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