How Teachers Can Offer Personal, Effective Feedback To Remote Students

While the past year of remote learning has been stressful for both teachers and students, the online classroom has also provided opportunities for greater communication and collaboration. Teachers learned to use new media to provide feedback and connect with their students in ways that might otherwise have seemed clunky in the in-person classroom.

Still, the best technology itself can only do so much. It also needs a teacher who knows how best to use it. Follow these steps to provide remote feedback effectively. 

Identify the Type of Feedback You Plan to Give

Before you can tap into different technological tools for your feedback process, consider how you plan to evaluate students and what you want them to get out of your comments. 

Teacher Matthew Johnson, author of “Flash Feedback,” presents two options for teachers who want to provide feedback. He asks: Are you a detached authority or an interested reader? Different students will respond to different styles of editing. 

The detached authority is focused on following the rules, records thoughts on the page while reading, and uses the same approach for each student. The interested reader focuses on issues related to the lesson, adapts their approach to fit the student, and is aware of the context behind the content. There is a time and a place for both approaches. Some assignments may open the door for more creativity while others need to be completed to meet state standards.

The evaluation style you choose can help you determine what students have mastered and where they are struggling. Middle school teacher Bill Ferriter, author of the Big Book of Tools, says educators are more like detectives when it comes to evaluation and feedback. 

Ferriter uses the example of a multiple-choice test. He tells a student one of three answers was incorrect and asks the student to explain which one was wrong and why. This lets him know whether the student was guessing on most questions or if one particular one confused them. As an educator, he now knows more about that student’s mastery of the subject and can provide better feedback. 

Changing your feedback style can help you better understand where struggling students get stuck while also providing meaningful opportunities for growth to high-performing pupils. 

Remote Students concept

Help Students Help Themselves

The purpose of feedback is to give students the tools to do better next time — to learn from their mistakes and understand what went wrong. You may need to change your feedback style to make it more empowering — especially as students are still adapting to remote learning and looking for guidance on their performance. 

“Maybe this is the perfect time to support our students with developing their self-regulation skills,” says Dr. Andy Chandler-Grevatt, a senior lecturer in science education at the University of Brighton. Teachers can provide feedback that helps students develop key skills and encourages independent learning and self-regulation. 

Chandler-Grevatt notes that many teachers give live feedback by email during lessons. “This is a good way to respond quickly to questions about the work or activity they have been set,” he explains. “The advantages are that it is timely and personal.”

For another example of effective digital feedback, Claire Gadsby, education consultant and author of “The Perfect Assessment for Learning,” highlights live marking as a productive strategy. She starts with an anonymous work sample and walks the student through her process of grading the piece. She explains why she is awarding marks, and then has the student evaluate their own work.

In whatever way you present your feedback to remote students, try to create discussions and opportunities to review the material together. 

“Feedback can take a multitude of forms (comments, redirection, encouragement, critical information), but it’s only good if we know it’s being received—if it’s making an impact in helping our students meet goals,” says Joe Mullikin, elementary school principal. “Good feedback is rooted in talking with our students, not at them.”

Time Your Feedback Strategically

The type of feedback you offer is important, but so is the timing. 

“Students want feedback with specific, detailed directions for future improvement, offered in a manner that is both constructive and encouraging,” write educators Holly Fiock and Heather Garcia at The Chronicle of Higher Education. “And they want that advice sooner rather than later.” 

Fiock and Garcia reference studies that found feedback is most effective when it is received within two weeks of an assignment. Anything later than that isn’t useful to the students as they have moved on to other units and skills.  

This optimal feedback window certainly applies to large projects that take time to grade, but also to in-class activities where students might have a harder time grasping the material. 

“Timely is more important than immediate,” write educators Holly Clark and Matt Miller at The Infused Classroom. “Make sure to allow students the time to struggle and step in with the feedback when it’s going to help them grow – not to stop them from struggling. They need to struggle.” 

You have likely seen parents jump in to help as soon as their child hits a roadblock. While this is well-meaning, it’s not teaching the student how to overcome the roadblock or at least learn more about it. The struggle is part of the growth process. 

Take Advantage of Audio and Video Options

One of the bright spots of remote learning is the use of video and audio recordings for feedback. Teachers can record their evaluations when they are grading papers or projects and share them directly with students. 

“Research indicates that using media, beyond text comments, positively impacts the students’ perception of the quality of feedback,” says educator Dr. Catlin Tucker, author of the “Blended Learning” series of books. “Online students who received audio feedback perceived that feedback as more thorough, detailed, and personal than text feedback… Students also reported being more motivated by audio and video feedback because it was clear and personalized.” 

Similarly, teachers noticed higher levels of engagement when students were given video or audio feedback. 

Educator Carl Hooker, author of the “Mobile Learning Mindset” book series notes that the medium of feedback matters and recommends using video or audio assessments, especially when that feedback can be deemed less than positive. “Written feedback that is highly critical doesn’t allow for inflection and can be damaging to the trust and relationship with the student,” he writes.

Remote Students concept

Set Up One-on-One Check-Ins

Another opportunity that shines in remote learning even more than the in-person classroom is the ability to check in one-on-one with students. It’s hard to have a private moment with students while managing a full in-person class. However, you can quickly pull students aside in a virtual classroom without singling them out. These check-ins are arguably more important in the remote classroom, as social distancing measures can make students feel isolated and lonely.  

“Whether it is a quick check-in or a longer discussion, conferring takes up a lot of my time throughout the school week,” says teacher Kristin Bond at Moving Writers. “But this is also where a lot of connections are made—having that one-on-one conversation with a student is essential for getting them to buy in to your system. Because at the end of the day, if a student doesn’t trust that you are there for them…they won’t care.”

Educator, consultant and founder of teacher resource company CraftED, Dr. Jenny Pieratt, introduces the concept of Feedback Friday as an option for teachers. With this program, you can spend the day checking in with each student and providing meaningful feedback on their work for the week. You can take time to see what they know and where they can improve. While you are meeting with individual students, the rest of your class can study independently — building their self-regulation skills.

Remote Students concept

Let Students Reflect and Comment

One of the best ways to make feedback collection a discussion is to involve students in the process. They see why you create grades in a certain way while also sharing their experiences in the learning process.

“When teachers offer feedback in a bubble without consulting students about what they value, they hit walls more often than not,” says Miranda Plotinsky, learning and achievement specialist in Maryland. “Prioritizing voice and keeping dialogue open is the best way to make sure feedback promotes growth, especially at a distance.” 

As an example, Plotinsky suggests sending out a two-minute survey to students to learn what they would like to explore further with their learning. This helps educators form meaningful relationships with each student and can guide them toward better lesson planning in the future. 

“Students are not often asked for their input,” writes art teacher Jordan DeWilde. “In the art room, middle school students want to have a say in the projects they’re creating… Unfortunately, many students have their creativity stifled by teachers who are unwilling to listen.” 

You can also create student “temperature checks,” writes former elementary teacher Alyssa at Alyssa Teaches, where students can evaluate how confident they are about the material. Add these to the end of quizzes or as follow-up to assignments. While the type of feedback depends on the app or platform your students are using, she says there are several options available so you can choose one that works for you.

Test Different Feedback Styles

You don’t have to lock into one style of feedback to connect with your students. Some assignments might benefit from video reviews while others could offer basic comments and annotations. Test different styles to see what works for you.  

For an additional resource, Laura Reynolds at TeachThought lists 20 ways to provide effective feedback to help your students. These range from focusing on specific skills to offering praise to motivate students and challenge them to do better.

Many of the in-class feedback styles can translate to the remote classroom — and vice versa. If you find that you enjoy Feedback Friday or video reviews, try to bring them to the in-person experience once your students return to school.

Images by: Kateryna Onyshchuk/©, milkos/©, nastya_gepp, tjevans