Hey, hey! I’m back today to talk to you about another one of my favorite time-saving assessment strategy for English teachers: the feedback letter.
I piloted the use of feedback letters during the 2016-2017 school year. In order to discover if it worked, I surveyed students, ran focus groups, and collected data.
After this, when I discovered just how much time I had saved with a successful strategy, I danced the happy dance!
What is a Feedback Letter?
A feedback letter is a trend-based assessment strategy. This letter is written from a teacher to his/her students in order to share data and examples found during a read-through of student work.
First, I typically reserve this for major assessments, although it could be adapted to fit smaller assessments, as well.
Overall, your goal is to read, looking for common trends to share with the class. For example, you might notice that a lot of students need work with idea development or topic sentences.
As trends emerge, take note in a notebook. Also, be sure to take screenshots of examplary work to share in your feedback letter.
What Did I Learn Feedback Letters as an Assessment Strategy?
After piloting the feedback letter with my standard and honors-level students, I found that, given a feedback letter with no additional supports, there was not a significant increase or decrease in student achievement on these assessments as compared to past student performance.
That’s great, but not enough to phone home about. At least I wasn’t having a negative impact, though.
I also noticed that students who were sooooo used to teachers telling them exactly what they had to fix in their papers didn’t know what to do when given a feedback letter.
Students did not yet have the skill of independent revision, and I needed to figure out how to get them to this point.
So, I reflected, as we teachers tend to do…
And I tried again.
Refining the Feedback Letter Assessment Strategy
This time, I used the feedback letter, but read it through with the students.
I also was more purposeful about structuring the “action steps” for students to take in applying my feedback to their own drafts.
Being purposeful is key to any assessment strategy.
I thought I was being purposeful by writing the letter, but I didn’t find purpose until I began with the end in mind.
As we read the letter together, I built in time for students to take these action steps…right there…during class. I set a timer and monitored student work.
Before the feedback letter and as students worked, I was much more purposeful about providing and discussing mentor texts and models with the students. I created screencasts. I taught them how to engage in effective peer review.
This time, students knew exactly what “awesome” looked like for this assignment.
This time, when I asked students to take action and apply the feedback letter, there was the clicky-clack of keyboards.
There was purposeful revision happening.
This assessment strategy did work!
And this time, I saw a noticeable difference in student achievement as a result of the feedback letter. Wahoo!
So, the key is not to just write a feedback letter, but to make it work for your students by preparing them to receive and apply the feedback letter.
What to Include in a Feedback Letter
- Opening: This is where you greet your students and give instructions for how you want them to read/take action on your letter. You should also give an overview of what students were asked to do for this particular assignment/process step.
- Overall Trends: Tell students what you learned as a reader from their drafts. Keep it to your top 2-3 takeaways.
- Discussion of Trends: Highlight the top 2-3 trends seen in student work. Include screenshots of awesome student examples. Be sure to provide “action steps” to help students reflect and apply to their writing.
- Wrap-up. Take a look forward to the next steps students will take with their drafts. In conclusion, I give a quick word of encouragement…because everyone needs a motivational penguin in his or her life.
Tips for Writing an AWEsome Feedback Letter
- Let your personality shine through in your writing. The more I use silly saying, catch-phrases students often hear in class, or references to pop culture trends, etc. the more they are engaged in the reading of the letter.
- Along with this, my students love when I use funny memes, gifs, or encouraging messages throughout the letter (or just at the end).
- Make sure to be focused and specific. In my first feedback letter, I was reaaaalllly detailed. I wrote my little heart out. It was long. There were no action steps. Did students apply all of this wonderous knowledge very well? Not so much. As a result of this experience, I now build in checkpoints or “action steps” into each letter. These action steps hold students accountable for reading the letter and also for applying it to their revision process.
- Be methodical about gathering trends. I read through student drafts with a notebook beside me and a pen in hand. Each time I notice a trend, I add it to a list in my notebook. I tally how many times I see each trend in order to decide on the top 2-3 trends I want to discuss in the letter.
- As I am preparing for this assessment strategy, reading and tallying, I also have an electronic document open. I want to take screenshots of student writing that makes me do a happy dance so that I can share them with my students as I talk about trends as exemplary models. Equally powerful, I screenshot “almost there” moments to use as teachable moments. I don’t call students out by name, but I do discuss what writing moves could take the writing to the next level.
- Don’t be boring…that’s lame. This is not an academic essay, nor is it technical writing. Don’t assume that your students will automatically hang on your every word. Make your words count!
- Don’t shame your students, but depending on the class it may be okay to use humor. For example, I may have used these gifs in feedback letters:
- This letter serves the dual purpose of providing feedback to your students AND serving as an example of concise, purposeful writing. Follow the rules you’ve taught to your student writers for “hooking” an audience, writing concisely, etc.
- Don’t allow yourself to get lost in “evaluation” of individual student work. The purpose of your reading right now is not to leave comments, but to gather trends.
- Don’t let students fall through the cracks. It’s worth mentioning that I do reserve the bottom portion of my notebook page to write down the names of students who need an SOS intervention. I create separate interventions for these writers who have “barely-there” drafts, who need remediation, etc.
- It seems as if this column is shorter than the other one…here’s another gif, just because.
If you loved this post, I hope you take the opportunity to grab a FREE guide that discusses more strategies you can use to give students choice and voice in your classroom.
Hi, I may be missing something but I don’t see the link to the free swipe file? I would love to see it as it sounds like a great idea. Thank you.
I love this idea and do you have an example of a feedback letter you use?
Yes, this idea does work really well! I don’t have a feedback letter example to share here. I do discuss this in more detail and provide swipe files in my Grading Reset course. If you’d like to learn more about this, click here: https://event.webinarjam.com/channel/gradingreset