5 Types of Writing Feedback
Today, we’re going to get right down to business and discuss five forms of formative writing feedback and when to use them during class to save time. If you haven’t already checked out my post on characteristics of effective feedback from my grading hacks series, be sure to check it out first so that we’re on the same page, cool?
Let's Recap: Effective Feedback is...
I often hear teachers complain about how much “grading” they have to do, but really grading should be the quickest step in the assessment process if you have front-loaded plenty of opportunities in class for students to receive varied writing feedback from you and their peers.
Research shows that effective feedback can improve student writing skills by leaps and bounds. The fact is, though, that teacher feedback often falls short due to it being not timely, not useful, or too critical.
Adding to this, it’s super important for teachers and students to be on the same page when it comes to writing feedback, meaning that they need a “common language” for discussing writing.
Developing a Language for writing feedback
What doesn’t work for writing feedback? Checklists. Yuck. Personally, I hate ‘em. I know that they might work for some folks if the goal is saving time. If the end game is really student learning, though, how many students are going to take the time to cross-reference a bunch of #’s on their paper with generic teacher comments and use that to improve their writing greatly? Take it from a teacher who has tried checklists in a desperate effort to streamline the grading process. While it might save YOU time in the long run, and even if you build in time for student reflection on those comments, I didn’t find (and my students didn’t either) it to be a game changer in terms of their actual learning and writing growth. Also, checklists create a teacher vs. student, top-down, “grading” mentality vs. a “feedback for learning” mentality which is what I want in my classroom.
I've tried checklists, but I find the comments are often too generic and not specific to the ideas in specific student papers. I also want the feedback to promote true learning.
So, what DOES work? Well, the key, I think, is to get rid of the “one size fits all” writing feedback mentality. Use feedback models and methods that work both for you and the students, and ones that work in the context of the classroom (to save you from a face-off with stacks of papers on your own time).
Writing teachers must practice feedback Tai Chi, finding their flow in order to reduce stress.
5 Types of Formative Writing Feedback
If you can build in time for this type of feedback into your classroom, even once a week, it can be soooo worth it.
Model live feedback for students
This live feedback can be done with a willing volunteer or an anonymous writing sample. Use it in moderation and within a limited time frame so that students don’t become bored and are able to apply ideas from the live feedback conference to their own work. I suggest five minutes or less with a quick win for everyone in the room, i.e. a takeaway that can be easily applied to their own writing. Have students take notes during live feedback and reflect on how they have applied their takeaway(s).
Student-led feedback conference
In a student-led conference, it is important to have students prepare beforehand by reflecting on their piece and coming up with questions and a focus for the conversation. Set a time frame for discussion and stick to it, and have students take notes/reflect on the feedback after the conference. If students are unprepared to conference, you may take the opportunity to re-teach or re-direct as needed and put an intervention in place to make sure this student does not fall behind.
Teacher-led feedback conference
For this to be effective, I suggest setting a timer and having a narrowed focus, i.e. focus on only one skill/paragraph. You may choose to ask questions of the student on the spot, talk through a paragraph together (and make notes for the student), or talk through a paragraph together (having the student take notes).
Take a number
This is a structure you can put in place for teacher and student-led conferences OR an informal Q&A session during which you want to be available on an as-needed basis. Project the slideshow with #’s on it, and have the tickets prepared for students to take at the beginning of class. It will be clear which student is up next, and will help your feedback to run smoothly. For informal conferences, it is important to set the expectation of “one specific focus” for students so that they don’t come up and say “I don’t get it” or “I was wondering if you could just read through my paper.” Instead, they should come up prepared to articulate what they “don’t get” or with a specific section of their paper they would like to focus on.
If students are working digitally, you can visit multiple student documents, focusing on a specific skill or paragraph. Sometimes, I will have students highlight evidence of this skill first, so that it is easy for me to scan and check for evidence/understanding of that skill. For example, you might have students highlight the thesis and topic sentences of an essay. Sometimes, I will read just a specified paragraph (introduction, first body, etc.). Having a narrowed focus, defined by you or your students, will allow you to be efficient with time and be able to give feedback efficiently.
Use technology to record a response
- If you’re comfortable using technology, use it to your advantage by creating a screencast response to share with the whole class in which you discuss trends or talk through a stellar student exemplar.
- You can also use platforms such as Kaizena, which are compatible with Google Classroom. This digital tool works from within Google Docs, allowing teachers to quickly record voice comments and rate student skills.
- Flipgrid is also a tool you can use for quick feedback after having students post an initial video of themselves reading a paragraph from their paper and reflecting or asking a question for you to respond to.
Trends & follow-up lesson
This is a quick win for you, the teacher, because it streamlines your feedback and makes it quickly accessible to the whole class or a small group of students. Read through a set of student papers. As you are reading, write down trends you notice. Focus on the top 1-2 trends you are noticing and prepare a lesson in which you can re-teach students who need help and extend learning for students who are ready to move on.
Most teachers probably use this at the end of a writing cycle, if at all. Let’s face it…in a time-crunch, self-reflection may be one of the first activities to go. The key with this is to be consistent, use throughout a writing cycle, and make sure students have a clear and specific target for reflection. Also, what will students produce or do as a result of this reflection?
self-reflection as feedback:
- Use before students see their grade to predict what grade they received based on their feedback. Or what grade they will get.
- Give students a revision or submission checklist and have them comment on areas of their paper that demonstrate these skills.
- Have students, after engaging in feedback with a peer, group, or even with you, reflect on which two comments were most helpful and why.
- Use Flipgrid (can you tell I love this platform!?!) to have students read a section of their paper out loud and reflect on a skill.
- Use a Google Form to prompt student reflection. This allows you to easily sort student responses and look for trends.
- Have students read through their paper and put a plus (or highlight in a certain color) by an area of strength, a minus (or another colored highlight) by an area for growth, and a question mark by an area they have a question about (with a comment stating the actual question).
- A quick ticket out the door can be used to gather student questions, for a thesis statement check, etc.
- After exemplars and live feedback, have students make changes to their own writing and reflect on what was changed/why.
- In preparation for a student-led conference, have students prepare questions and think about a specific skill and how it is seen/developed in their writing.
- Color-coded reflection can be a great way for students to see what needs to be added to a paper. For example, I will often have students take one of their paragraphs and highlight parts of an ICE-cycle in different colors: transition words/phrases, context, topic sentence, evidence, paraphrase, analysis and close reading, connection back to topic sentence/thesis.
If you spend time training students how to approach peer feedback sessions (how to receive feedback and how to give feedback), it will be much more effective than simply partnering students up, crossing your fingers, and hoping that it’s successful. You may also want to assess student feedback for more than completion points – after all, it is a skill.
Think about how you want to create student partnerships. For a partner situation, I find that it’s easier to differentiate and create productive experiences if students are at a similar level in terms of their writing skills. For lower-level students, you might create a targeted list of questions for them to think about/discuss, or provide a specific checklist or feedback template, checking in with these partnerships more frequently and even joining in if necessary to provide further modeling of your thinking process when giving feedback. For higher-level students, you may be able to release them to independence, asking these writers to lead a conference about their own writing by asking questions and follow-up questions and writing down feedback received.
Effective peer feedback
- After students have gone through “training,” have them practice with sample paragraphs/papers before critiquing their own. Have students give you feedback!
- Model live feedback with exemplars and strategies
- Round-Robin Feedback: Have the writers put a box around or a star by a section of his/her writing for feedback and/or ask a question in the margin. Then, set a timer for 4-5 minutes and go through several “rounds” of feedback, having each new reviewer check the previous feedback for accuracy and add their own thoughts/ideas/questions into the “conversation.” When the original writer gets his/her piece back, s/he summarizes the feedback or choose the most helpful comment, makes changes to the piece, and reflects on what has changed and why.
- Gallery Walk: Students move from paper-to-paper, leaving feedback on sticky notes. The original writer synthesizes all of the feedback received and reflects/revises.
Group feedback is similar to peer feedback, but happens within larger groups. Students will take turns leading a conversation about their own piece of writing in the “hot seat” after reading a paragraph aloud to the group. Group members will ask questions and provide suggestions based on questions asked by the writer who will take notes and submit to the teacher as a ticket out the door. You can provide a basic template for this. You may also circulate and join groups as needed.
If you have more time, or are teaching creative writing, it is a great experience for students to take turns leading a whole-class feedback session in response to a piece of writing. When leading the group feedback session, the student should prepare copies of his/her piece for the class beforehand (or share electronically), read the piece aloud, and ask questions and follow-up questions (writing down feedback received).
Some teachers prefer this type of feedback, but it can certainly be the most time-consuming...if you let it!
Efficient Written Feedback
- Use Permanent Clipboard, a Google Chrome extension that allows you to save common thoughts as comments for frequent use.
- Set a timer and read/skim through a class set of papers with a Google Doc open, noting common trends and needs and taking screenshots of really great student examples. Use those screenshots to write a quick feedback letter to the class. For this to be effective, keep it short and sweet, and be sure to hold students accountable for reading the letter and reflecting/revising.
- Ask students to choose one paragraph and one skill for you to focus on. This reduces the time you spend writing feedback and also puts responsibility on the students to reflect on your feedback and apply to other parts of their papers.
- Model written feedback live and have students apply to their own writing on the spot.
In conclusion, it is important for teachers to find their feedback flow in order to reduce stress, but it’s also important to find efficient ways to provide writing feedback that are varied and responsive to student needs
Find ways to play up your strengths while making sure to provide a lot of opportunities for your students to receive feedback from you and their peers and to reflect on their own writing. Remember, feedback doesn’t have to come solely from you, and it’s important to turn some of that responsibility back over to the students.
After all, you don't want to be the one who is working the hardest in the room!
Brookhart, S. M. (2008). How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students.