“They don’t read my comments!” Strategies for encouraging the receipt and application of course feedback

Giving feedback in college courses helps provide supportive ideas for improvement, elaboration, and/or further reflection as students prepare for professional factors outside of their college preparation. Feedback (give and take) includes a set of skills that are evident in any workplace and can inspire people to support ongoing personal and professional development. However, in conversations with professors, many discuss the fact that although they take the time to write or discuss explicit comments with their students, students may not read them or if they do read them, they don’t. do not apply the comments given to future course assignments. which can lead to faculty frustration leading to a “what’s the point then?” attitude. However, with a specific framework embedded in a course that is described, modeled, and then applied with students, feedback can become informative and transformative both during and after college education.

Feedback Literacy

Feedback Literacy was first introduced in 2012 by Sutton where he postulated that when a person is comment literate, they are able to “…read, interpret and use written comments” (p. 31), allowing students to better use the feedback that is given and allow their own evaluative judgment (Molloy et al., 2019). In order to create students who are masters of feedback, faculty must understand and model the skills and strategies that support the provision of effective feedback with a true understanding of the following standards: (1) the student is committed to feedback as improvement, (2) appreciates feedback as an active process, (3) obtains information to enhance learning, (4) processes feedback information, (5) recognizes and works with emotions, ( 6) recognizes feedback as a reciprocal process and (7) implements the results of processing feedback information (Molloy et al., 2019). When this framework is followed, students have a baseline to see what specific feedback skills they need to develop and how to track their progress toward those goals.

Ferguson (2011) proposes that student feedback is both valuable and important, but often, according to students, feedback is often helpful. How does faculty get to the point where “useful” feedback is provided, students are “feedback literate,” feedback is actively received, and students act on feedback? First and foremost, faculty and students should have a common understanding of what feedback refers to, how it will be given, and expectations for the application of feedback after it is received. We believe that four aspects underpin the ability to provide effective feedback, including:

  1. Trust: students believing that the faculty member wants them to grow and acquire skills in their knowledge related to the course content
  2. Communication: students receive clear expectations on assignments and assessments
  3. Consistency: students receive regular feedback from the faculty member and assignments are graded in the expected manner with feedback to support learning growth
  4. Authenticity: students receive explicit feedback that addresses strengths and needed improvements

Integrate effective feedback

In accordance with the feedback framework developed by Molloy et al. (2019), teachers can incorporate feedback into their lessons in the following ways:

Student agrees to provide feedback for improvement

Molloy et al. (2019) discusses the use of feedback not only to improve a score on an assignment, but also to improve a skill. Repetitive homework that teaches a skill is a great example. In this scenario, a student must be committed to applying feedback not only for grading purposes, but also to improve their skills. The explicit application of student feedback through repetitive assignments encourages students to recognize that growth and improvement are possible. An example of this might be an assignment that asks students to analyze research articles, an important skill. Typically, the first submission of an article analysis is missing many elements (i.e. independent variable, data analysis, etc.); however, by providing explicit feedback in each of the areas, students can not only improve their grade on the next submission, but also improve their article analysis skills.

The student appreciates feedback as an active process and the student obtains information to improve learning

Providing quality feedback that can help develop students as independent learners (Brown, 2007; Ferguson, 2011) leads students to recognize the active process of learning and begin to seek feedback to improve their work. One way to create an active learning environment may include scaffolded assignments in which students submit assignments incrementally before submitting the full, larger assignment. Using this structure, students can actively apply feedback to subsequent submissions. By applying feedback, students in turn learn how to improve their entire courses and generalize the use of feedback to illicitly improve assignments in future courses. Students can also begin to actively solicit feedback from multiple sources with the goal of improving their learning and performance. For example, if a course requires a large annotated bibliography to be submitted at the end of the course, the faculty responsible for the course may ask students to submit a small number of annotations before the larger work is due in order to provide correction comments to students.

Student will process feedback information and student will recognize and work with emotions

Ferguson (2011) found that many students reported that the presence of an abundance of negative feedback caused them to, in a sense, “give up” on the work. The task for faculty then is to figure out a way to provide students with constructive feedback that encourages goal setting and wards off emotional reaction or feelings of failure. Molloy et al. (2019) found that comments should be respectful with plenty of examples of what a patched version should look like. Rather than simply expressing to a student with a comment that part of an assignment is incorrect, provide the student with comments that explicitly explain what is incorrect, why it is incorrect, and how the student can correct the work. For example, if an assignment requires in-text citations, rather than just marking the citation as incorrect, give the student what the citation would look like in the corrected form.

Student will recognize feedback as a reciprocal process and student will embrace the results of processing feedback information

Turnaround times are an additional factor that professors are able to control, and students indicated that the time it takes to provide feedback can vary. Two major elements related to the time it takes to receive feedback were that it should arrive before the next assignment so that it can be applied to that assignment and also that if a faculty member takes longer to provide comments, it should be substantial (Ferguson, 2011). Additionally, students should seek feedback from multiple sources, which could include a mentor who could provide practical suggestions for improvement (Kwok, 2018). For example, a faculty member could potentially establish peer mentors in a course where students could openly discuss their feedback to establish reciprocity of feedback and also commit to using feedback for continuous improvement.

Feedback is an essential element in supporting student learning. Precise and calculated decisions in course structure and design can create an environment in which student development depends on the application of feedback. As suggested here, there are several ways for faculty to employ a variety of assignments that require students to apply feedback in order to further develop a skill and also influence the overall course grade.


Maria B. Peterson-Ahmad, PhD, is an associate professor of special education at Texas Women’s University with a research concentration in teacher preparation, particularly for general and special education teachers of students with mild disabilities /moderate.

Randa G. Keeley, PhD, is an assistant professor of special education at Texas Women’s University with a research concentration in classroom interventions that promote inclusive learning environments for students with special educational needs and disabilities as well as pre-service teacher preparation.

Marilyn Roberts, MEd, is a doctoral student in special education at Texas Women’s University with a research interest in culturally appropriate instructional practices that promote equitable and inclusive learning environments for students with disabilities.

References

Brown, J. (2007). Feedback: The student perspective. Research in further education, 12(1), 33-51.

Ferguson, P. (2011). Student perceptions of the quality of feedback in teacher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(1), 51-62. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602930903197883

Kwok, A. (2018). Promote “quality” feedback: first-grade teachers self-report on their development as classroom leaders. Classroom Interaction Log, 53(1), 22-36.

Molloy, E., Boud, D. & Henderson, M. (2019). Development of a learning-centered framework for feedback literacy. Measurement and evaluation in higher education, 45.(4), 527–540. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1667955

Sutton, P. (2012). Conceptualizing Feedback Literacy: Knowing, Being and Doing. Innovations in education and teaching International, 49(1), 31–40. https://doi.org/10.1080/14703297.2012.647781


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