Top Teacher Tips for Giving Great Feedback to Students, Especially in Math and Reading
By: edHelper Staff
Updated: May 5, 2023
Providing feedback to students can be hard. It can be hard to think of exactly what to say, but what you say can be hard on your students too. Without the right feedback, they can end up taking it personally. It can end up making them feel like they failed, which can be extremely demotivating.
In other cases, it can feel like your students aren't taking your feedback to heart. They may continue making the same mistakes or feel like they've done good enough and there's no need to do any more.
Before you feel too disappointed in your students, consider that they may not be the problem.
That's because as hard as it is to provide feedback to students, it's even harder to provide good feedback.
Don't write just "Great job!" or "Recheck your work" at the top of the page. Follow these top tips to give your students the kind of feedback that encourages them to do their very best in your classroom.
Provide Positive Reinforcement
Before we get into the nitty gritty of giving negative feedback, which is what most feedback is, we want to mention the importance of providing positive reinforcement.
It's easy to assume that getting an answer right is positive reinforcement enough, but there's a lot more to it, especially in math and reading.
For example, even if a student gets the right answer on a math worksheet, you might want to compliment them on how they showed you each step they used to get the answer. In reading, you might give them kudos for specific details in a drawing they created to highlight their understanding of a story they are reading.
Positive reinforcement isn't just for correct answers! You can still thank a student for showing their work or show them where they were on the right track, even if the answer itself was wrong.
The goal is to encourage students to keep trying. By providing them with positive reinforcement, they feel like they are doing things right. It motivates them to keep trying, even when other aspects of their work are wrong.
Actionable feedback goes beyond marking whether the answer is right or wrong. Instead, it aims to show what part of the solution is correct or incorrect while suggesting what students can do next time.
Instead of marking a problem wrong or writing, "Try again!" in the margin, you leave specific feedback. For example, you might mention that a student did a great job on the procedural part of a math problem, but they found the wrong answer. You might encourage them to find ways to double-check their work to get the right answer next time.
Actionable feedback isn't just for answers students get wrong! A student may find the right answer to a reading comprehension problem, but you might ask them how they knew the answer. In math, you might ask the student if there are any other ways to find the right answer to the problem.
Give Immediate Feedback
Life in the classroom is busy. Life outside the classroom is busy too! You aren't alone if you just couldn't grade those papers as quickly as you hoped.
Late feedback is better than no feedback at all, but it really is best to give feedback as quickly as possible.
Feedback that is given in the moment can be acted on immediately. In addition, the subject matter is still fresh in your students' minds when you give immediate feedback, which means it's more likely to stick.
In one study, participants who received immediate feedback greatly increased their performance compared to those who received delayed feedback. In another research project, students were able to better comprehend what they read if they received a lot of immediate feedback right after reading it.
Don't beat yourself up if you can't provide immediate feedback all the time. But if you're working on a difficult math concept or brushing up ahead of an important reading comprehension test, it's a good idea to prioritize immediate feedback.
Present Feedback Carefully
It's easy for kids to get discouraged when they receive feedback. That's especially the case if your feedback comes across the wrong way.
If your students feel overly monitored or controlled, or if the pressure of the competition is too great, they can end up feeling demotivated.
Consider each student as you provide feedback. Students who aren't confident in math or reading may need more positive reinforcement when you're giving negative feedback. Other students may react better to minimal feedback, which means choosing very carefully which questions or problems you ask them to readdress.
Think very carefully about how you present feedback so it comes across as an opportunity to grow-not a reason for students to feel disappointed in their performance.
That also means striving to create an atmosphere where students are competing against their own knowledge and personal bests, not against each other. Be careful with activities like spelling bees and games where students compete against others to get a math problem done the fastest.
Focus on Effort
All students are capable of learning. For some, it comes easily. Those students often rake in the positive feedback, while other students who are struggling get lots of negative feedback.
Flip the script and provide feedback that focuses on effort. For example, even if a student got an answer wrong on a math test, you can still acknowledge that their reasoning was sound and encourage them to walk through the problem again to see if they get a different answer.
Also, instead of complimenting a student for finishing a book quickly, you might ask them to slow down so they can provide more details in their book report next time.
When you focus on effort, all students feel like they have the ability to succeed, even if math or reading isn't their strongest subject.
Encourage Feedback from Others
Teachers provide all of the feedback in most classrooms. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. The teacher is the one guiding student learning, after all! However, you're missing a great opportunity for students to dig deep into the concept of feedback if you're the only one providing it.
Ask another teacher to grade a book review, assign a math worksheet that a parent has to correct before the student can turn it in, or have other students provide feedback to their classmates on a recent assignment. Let students see that getting feedback from a variety of sources can help them see their work more clearly.
Teachers can also ask for feedback from their students! After a math unit or a reading project, pass out a questionnaire with questions like, "How much time did I spend helping you?" and "What did you like the most and the least about this unit?"
Ask students how they feel about your feedback in general. Talk about whether or not it's specific enough, and ask them if they think you're doing a good job teaching the subject matter. Not only will you learn a lot, but you will also find that your students are more open to your feedback later if they have an opportunity to give you their own.
Teach Students How to Give, Receive, and Identify Good Feedback
Receiving feedback can be scary. It's always nerve-racking to wait for someone else to tell you whether you did a good job or not. It's also scary because it can make children feel powerless.
Children shouldn't feel like they have to take all the feedback they get to heart because it's not all created equal. Some feedback is totally useless, while they may not agree with other types of feedback at all.
Give students their power back by talking about the difference between good and bad feedback. Not only will receiving feedback in the future create less anxiety, but it can also help them develop their own feedback skills. Let them practice giving feedback to their peers. Your students will learn how to create quality feedback and how to give it in a compassionate way.
Feedback should never be an afterthought. Take your time, slow down, and provide meaningful, actionable feedback to your students. When you do, you will encourage them to continue learning and growing, not just because you told them to but because they feel empowered to do it with your guidance.