How to give students feedback that works


Erik Ketcherside

Penny Dyer is the last faculty member some students in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College get to know. The clinical assistant professor is one of 31 site coordinators in the college’s iTeachAZ program. This program, recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education for its innovative approach to teacher preparation, ensures that teacher candidates leave their student teaching experience fully equipped for their first year as teachers.

Penny works on site in the Phoenix Union High School District with iTeachAZ students during their senior year residencies. Watching them transition from university pedagogy to classroom practice convinced her that most of her “TCs” need more practice in one particular area: academic feedback.

“If you’re a math teacher, or a science teacher in a lab,” Penny says, “when a student comes up with a wrong answer they probably just missed a step. So you help them retrace their steps and find out where they went wrong.

“But in mathematics, English or history, when a student comes up with a wrong answer, you have to find out what they were thinking. And that’s the role of academic feedback.”

Delivering Effective Feedback is a free professional development module available on demand from the Sanford Inspire Program through Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

Concern: Traditional academic feedback is inadequate

The longstanding method of academic feedback is: Listen to what the student says. Tell them if it’s right or wrong, then paraphrase what they said. Penny says that isn’t actually academic feedback; or at least, not feedback that will bring about mastery learning. “It’s just question-and-answer, and then they leave it at that.”

The weakness of the traditional method is the loss of continued engagement, resulting in not only a lack of mastery, but the potential for negative classroom behaviors to appear when students feel the teacher isn’t actually interested in their answers. Penny describes a scenario in which a student whose answer was incorrect might be interpreting the teacher’s limited feedback as, “Well, you’re wrong, but the others have it right so let’s move on.”

Solution: Delivering effective feedback

Penny uses the Sanford module, Delivering Effective Feedback, to help teacher candidates practice and improve their feedback technique. They tell her the module helps them go beyond what students say in their first responses, offering strategies for how to ask more questions after. “The initial question shouldn’t be the last,” Penny says. “It isn’t ‘question and answer.’ It’s a series: ‘question-answer-question-answer-question-answer.’”

Penny says teacher candidates report back to her with positive reviews when they apply what they learned from the module in their classrooms. “They frequently say something like, ‘When I ask a question of a student, it’s the beginning of a string of teaching. I’m actually teaching them.’” Others tell her how devoting more time and attention to feedback generates rewards in improved student behavior and participation. “Their students want them to come over and ask questions. And the TCs see increased participation in tutoring and advising.”


Penny introduces the Sanford feedback module to all of her teacher candidates with group presentations, but the teacher candidates return to it on their own, some of them two and three times. “When these teachers become accomplished at giving academic feedback, they get the kids to start learning and thinking that way,” she says. “Even if students’ initial answers aren’t quite right, the teacher is telling them, ‘Part of your thinking was good. Let’s build on those strengths to improve.’” Penny says this process teaches students the path to mastery learning.

The behavioral benefits are the result of that prolonged interaction, Penny says. “Good academic feedback helps with knowing your students through one-on-one contact. What middle school and high school students in particular crave is contact with the teacher. They want that teacher to listen to them and talk to them and care about them. If you’re probing and trying to help somebody learn on an individual basis like this, you care about them, and they know you do.”

Teacher resource: Delivering Effective Feedback

Source: Sanford Inspire Program

Type: on-demand, single user

Cost: free

Estimated time required: 1.0 hour

Completion documentation: certificate

Teacher Standards (InTASC): Performances: 6(a); Essential Knowledge: 6(j)

Topics: Planning and Delivery > Checks for Understanding > Responding to Students

For more free professional development resources for teachers, administrators, schools and districts, visit the Sanford Inspire Program homepage, and the ASU Professional Learning Library, powered by Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.