Strategies for giving effective written feedback to international students

The University of Idaho launched the Global Student Success Program in partnership with Navitas in 2017 and kicked off its first annual Spring Lecture Series for 2018 in March. The goal of the series was to share research and skills to support best practices in teaching international students and English language learners. The event brought together experienced faculty members from the Global Student Success Program and the American Language and Culture Program at the University of Idaho.

You can watch the full recording of Chad Eller’s presentation on strategies for giving effective written feedback and his examples here. Keep reading for a summary of the ideas below.

Have you ever been overwhelmed with grading, plowing through piles of essays with growing frustration at the tediousness of corrections? In giving students rules, we can sometimes forget to engage with the ideas being presented in their work. Some common pitfalls of giving written feedback and how to avoid them are outlined below.

Common pitfalls

  • Unclear assignment instructions: There are often times when assignment instructions aren’t explicit enough or may be worded in a complicated, culturally specific way. When providing the instructions for an assignment, make sure they are very clear and direct. Rubrics which give students examples of the ‘product’ you’re looking for are really useful. It also helps to provide students with good and bad examples and explain what makes one good and one bad.
  • Surface-level reading: When you’re grading, you’re looking for errors and things you want to correct. However, focusing on grammatical or formatting errors may cause you to forget to engage with the ideas being presented. Spend some time to really try to get what the students are saying.
  • Fear of hurting a student’s feelings: This can manifest in hedging feedback which could cause your comments to become unclear to students. Word your feedback in a way that is considerate, but also direct. If you’re engaging in a student’s ideas, they’re going to get a lot out of your feedback and strive to learn.
  • Critiquing the student instead of the text: Sometimes it’s a matter of wording. Instead of saying, “You’re not making sense here”, you could say something like, “I didn’t understand this passage.”
  • Trying to address all issues: For example, critiquing all the content as well as grammatical errors may overwhelm students which could potentially result in the student disengaging with the feedback.

Avoiding the pitfalls

  • Respond as a reader: This means engaging with the text intellectually and emotionally. If you honestly engage with the ideas, the student/writer will likely take your critique in stride. Think of it as a dialogue.
  • Use ‘I-statements’: For example: “I don’t get your meaning here”; “I laughed here”; “This is confusing to me.” Try to make the feedback more personal and constructive.
  • Prioritize: To avoid overloading your students with corrections, choose two to four elements of the assignment to focus your critique.
  • Be constructive: Word your feedback constructively. Don’t just correct errors, but give them some pointers on how to correct it.

A useful approach to give feedback effectively is to develop a longer-term plan to provide feedback gradually over the course of a few assignments. For instance, students may be required to complete three or four major essays over the duration of a course. To provide feedback in a focused and moderated way, you could address formatting and grammar in the earlier assignments, and then emphasize content or structure in later assignments. Consider how assignments can be scaffolded over one another as the student develops.

To keep students engaged, remember to use positive reinforcement, and set small tasks in your comments for students to revise areas of their assignment. This will give students the opportunity to continue to practice what they have learned.

To continue the conversation, contact Chad Eller, or share your thoughts and ideas via Yammer, Twitter or LinkedIn.