The Art of Giving Feedback

CTEL dedicated its inaugural Teaching Showcase event to the art of giving feedback. In this article, we capture takeaways from the event.
USM Digital Learning
Do you find giving feedback the most challenging part of teaching? If so, you are not alone. Many instructors consider it a painstaking, time-consuming process.

To draw together experienced faculty and identify best practices, CTEL dedicated its inaugural Teaching Showcase event to the art of giving feedback. Featured panelists for the event included Dr. Michael Stevenson, Professor of Psychology; Dr. Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Associate Professor and Department Chair, Literacy, Language, and Culture; and Dr. Liz Turesky, Professor, Leadership and Organizational Studies. All have been recognized by students and colleagues for excellence in teaching.

As the session began, Andrea, Liz, and Michael first recognized that the mix of academic skills students in USM courses have today is much more varied than in the past, so faculty need to act as coaches rather than information disseminators. Because of this shift, the ability to give good feedback is even more critical to the practice of teaching.

As their conversation with attendees from many USM departments unfolded, Andrea, Liz, and Michael’s recommendations related to 4 main themes.

Scaffold Assignments

Scaffolding assignments involves using low-stakes assignments, like discussion posts or drafts of higher-stakes papers or projects, to share formative feedback with your students on what they are doing well and where they need development to ultimately succeed. These low-stakes assignments prepare students to complete high-stakes assignments, like final projects or papers, which are designed to bring together knowledge and skills they’ve acquired across your course and give you an opportunity to provide summative feedback.

Dr. Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Associate Professor, Program Coordinator of Literacy, Language and Culture

Want to learn more about formative and summative assessments?

The Yale Center for Teaching and Learning’s website provides in-depth information.

Drafts are an essential part of scaffolding.

Andrea, Liz, and Michael all require students to submit drafts of higher-stakes assignments so they have an opportunity to give formative feedback. This both mitigates procrastination and enables students to see where they’re going off track on the assignment while there’s still time for them to correct course.

Dr. Michael Stevenson
Dr. Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Associate Professor, Program Coordinator of Literacy, Language and Culture

Participants also mentioned using peer review of drafts as a scaffolding strategy, which helps students become better critical readers of not only others’ writing but their own.

Want to provide your students with resources for peer review?

Share CTEL’s general Peer Review Guidelines with them (or contact a Learning Designer for help tailoring a resource specific to your assignment).

Summative feedback can be shared with the entire class.

Andrea, Liz, and Michael all shared that they also provide summative feedback for an assignment across the entire class’ performance as a Blackboard announcement or email (or both). Obviously, this is a time-saver since you’re delivering a message once rather than multiple times, but Andrea and Liz noted additional benefits to whole-class summative feedback.

Dr. Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Associate Professor, Program Coordinator of Literacy, Language and Culture
Dr. Elizabeth Fisher Turesky, Associate Professor of Leadership Studies

Regardless of whether you’re giving formative or summative feedback, all 3 faculty panelists recommended recognizing and reinforcing what students are doing well.

Dr. Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Associate Professor, Program Coordinator of Literacy, Language and Culture

Want advice on giving better feedback on written assignments?

Andrea shared a booklet that the LAC Writing Center previously distributed to faculty, Responding to Student Writing (which is now available on the Harvard Writing Project website).

Use Rubrics

Whether you’re giving formative or summative feedback, Andrea, Liz, and Michael all advocated for grading rubrics.

Dr. Michael Stevenson
Dr. Elizabeth Fisher Turesky, Associate Professor of Leadership Studies
Dr. Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Associate Professor, Program Coordinator of Literacy, Language and Culture
Dr. Michael Stevenson

Looking for grading rubrics to use in your class?

You can download and modify (if needed) several of CTEL’s sample grading rubrics.

Manage Time

For several years, Michael has been teaching a fully online, 100-level course with enrollments of over 100 students. Delivering feedback to a cohort this large requires serious time management skills, but Michael has developed an actionable strategy.

Dr. Michael Stevenson

As Michael noted, timing is critical in fully online courses because formative feedback is far less useful if it’s given after the next assignment is due. He also saves time by using Blackboard discussion forums for what he calls “homework,” short written assignments that students submit weekly.

Dr. Michael Stevenson

Another strategy for saving time is posting examples of student work. Like rubrics, they model your expectations for an assignment.

Dr. Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Associate Professor, Program Coordinator of Literacy, Language and Culture

Want to set expectations for online discussions?

You can make a copy of Andrea’s discussion rubric and use it in your own classes.

Connect Individually

Andrea, Liz, and Michael all emphasized the importance of connecting with students individually.

Dr. Elizabeth Fisher Turesky, Associate Professor of Leadership Studies
Dr. Michael Stevenson

Audience members noted that faculty could also have students write a summary for a one-on-one meeting, or the meeting itself could be structured similar to a performance summary in the workplace, with the student and instructor collaboratively recording a summary of their conversation.

Want to make scheduling one-on-one meetings easier?

Share a Google Sheet with your students so that they can sign up for individual time slots. CTEL has a sign-up sheet template that you can copy and share with them.

Join Us

The Art of Giving Feedback was the first in a series of panel discussions led by faculty experts that CTEL is hosting this academic year. We’ll be covering many different topics—check out what’s coming up next on our events calendar.

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