Giving Feedback to Students

A Teaching Assistant will provide feedback to students mainly by grading assignments, responding in writing to written work, and responding during class discussion. It pays to remember that instructors provide feedback in every interaction, not just through grades and written comments, but also through their interactions with students in class, and even through their facial expressions and other non-verbal cues.

There are also different points in the learning process when feedback can be used, and different goals in providing it. A final grade in a course is a different kind of feedback than formative feedback on an early draft of an assignment.

Similarly, there are different kinds of feedback. Corrective feedback might focus on fixing errors, and in some fields this may be the most important form. Directive feedback is more forward looking, and helps the student think about what to do different next time more generally. Evaluative feedback, such as grades, communicates a judgement about quality or success. It can be useful to distinguish the different kinds of feedback possible, and to think carefully about when each kind is most appropriate. Teaching Assistants should be sure their approach to feedback is aligned with their supervisor’s expectations.

There are many guides to effective feedback, including this helpful guide for writing feedback, which has many lessons transferrable to other kinds of teaching and learning. There are also some best practices that can be valuable in any field. These include:

  • Focus on positives. Students need to know what they’re doing well, and not just absorb a litany of their failures.
  • Constructive feedback. Provide feedback that aims for improvement and future success.
  • Be timely. Feedback should be given while the work and learning are still fresh.
  • Summarize. Simply repeating back to the student what they seem to be doing can provide valuable evidence about whether they have succeeded.
  • Focus. Concentrating on the main opportunity for improvement, rather than listing every possible opportunity, makes progress feel more manageable.
  • Like the work. Communicating friendly interest or admiration no matter what the grade can be encouraging and can make other feedback easier to take.

Feedback also should be a two-way process. It is just as important to receive feedback from students as it is to provide it to them. See Section 4.6 on the evaluation of instructors for more information about soliciting and receiving feedback.

Teaching Assistants can find many more resources on all aspects of teaching, including instructor feedback, at UWM’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.