Providing feedback to students is essential to their growth. Sometimes this comes in the form of a summative grade at the end of a unit or project, but more frequently, it happens through formative feedback throughout the learning process. While it is critical to the learning process, providing feedback is also one of the most time consuming tasks facing teachers each day. It’s common to hear stories of teachers bringing stacks of assignments home each night to correct. So how can you balance these realities and provide meaningful feedback to students in a time-efficient way for teachers?
To do this, rethink the feedback and grading process you currently use and consider ways that can reduce this part of your workload. You may find it helpful to skim the list below and find the suggestions that resonate most with you and your situation. Then take some time and dive deeper into those suggestions and consider how you might apply that approach in your daily practices.
It can be hard to accept this, but not everything needs a formal grade. In fact, neuroscience tells us that removing high-stakes grades from formative work helps students grow faster because it reduces the stress and worry they may have about an evaluative grade. In that light, consider what work needs a summative grade and what work is formative. With formative work, feedback is important, but it typically does not require a formal grade. If you are checking to see that students are engaging in a process, perhaps just check that step off when it has been completed. Other times, student work requires specific feedback in order to guide them on their learning path. In those cases, consider some of the time-saving strategies suggested below.
Rather than providing feedback on every element of student work, focus on a few key skills. This will reduce the overwhelmed feeling students may experience when there are extensive checklists or marks all over their work, and it will also allow you to be more targeted in your feedback. When reviewing student work for three elements rather than fifteen, you can get through your stack of papers much more quickly. Remember, if everything’s important, nothing is important. Give yourself and your students a focused target and zoom in on what is particularly important to the task at hand. Ask yourself, what are the essential standards being learned? Both you and your students will benefit from this approach.
Portfolios are collections of student work. As students complete attempts at new academic skills, they put examples of their work into a portfolio. This is a common practice for artists and writers, and it can apply to nearly any other content area as well. Putting work into a portfolio signals to the students that they are engaging in a process of practice and growth. This process reinforces that not everything will be graded and that it is important to continue practicing and striving to improve.
When you feel students have had enough formative practice, you can ask them to select one or two exemplary samples from their portfolio to receive a thorough formative review or possibly even a summative grade. This approach significantly reduces your grading workload and allows students to experiment and practice without the stress of being formally evaluated on every attempt. It also provides the students with practice in thinking critically and evaluatively about what makes quality work, and students end up with a nice collection of their work that can be shared with parents at conference time.
Feedback does not always need to come from you. With the proper guidance and scaffolds in place, students can provide each other with meaningful feedback. For instance, students might share a piece of writing with two of their peers in a small group. Before they begin, you can give them the specific “look fors” to identify in the writing. Then, you might have students point these out to each other verbally or by recording their insights on a graphic organizer. For example, if students are practicing using sensory detail in their writing, peers can point out examples where sensory detail has been effectively used. By recording their observations on a graphic organizer, they can quickly identify which senses were not addressed. This is helpful feedback for the developing writer and does not require you to read every draft of student work. In most peer evaluation settings, detailed rubrics, checklists, and examples are important scaffolds that help guide the peer review.
Similar to peer evaluation, students can learn to review their own work. Again, a detailed checklist or rubric is very helpful and will help students focus their review. While students can work independently on this, you might also consider guiding the whole class through a student review together. Math teachers have done this for years by reviewing the homework problems as a class. Students can see the correct answer while they process and review their work to identify successes and mistakes. This works well for writing assignments or creative projects as well. As you review the success criteria with the class, students examine their work and evaluate their progress. This process has the added benefit of allowing students to practice important critical thinking and evaluation skills.
Face-to-face meetings allow you to have deeper conversations with students and identify points of confusion in real time. This saves you time because you can give the feedback in person during the lesson, and it has the added benefit of allowing you to connect personally with the student, which can help you build relational capacity and trust at the same time.
Consider how you might structure your lesson in a way that allows you to meet with individual or small groups of students. One approach is setting appointments during class when students are working independently or in groups. Another is to utilize station rotation and build in a required teacher station where you can conference with students. If students are working through a playlist, one checkpoint can be a teacher meeting. When students get to that point on the checklist, they come to meet with you. Of course, you can circulate the room less formally during work time and check in with students as they work. With this approach, you might want to check off student names on a list as you meet with them to ensure you don’t miss anyone.
Rather than taking student work home to grade, consider how it might be graded in real-time during class. Can you grade student work during a check-in conference, or are you able to assess student learning during a speech or presentation? If it’s formative, having the students grade their own work as you review the answers saves you time and gives them immediate feedback about their progress.
Another formative strategy is to review one or two student samples together as a class. You can project this work on a big screen and solicit student input as you review the sample against a rubric or checklist. Of course, you’ll want to stay positive, praise strengths, and make sure a student is never embarrassed in front of peers. This full-class review can be a great way to model the evaluation and self-critique process when done with tact and skill. If you are not comfortable critiquing work from a student in your current class, you might use one from a previous class (with permission, of course), generate your own example, or find one online to review.
This is one place technology can really save you time. While you don’t want to overdo the use of self-paced, automated learning programs, they do have their place, especially with basic skill-building practice. These computer programs excel at providing students with immediate feedback as they work through a sequence of challenges and learning modules. For example, software can immediately tell a student if the word they identified in a sentence is a noun or verb. By allowing computer programs to provide feedback on recall and basic understanding questions like this, you can be freed up to conference with students and focus on higher-order concepts like problem-solving, creativity, and evaluation.
Rather than collecting and grading everything, you might consider a quick exit ticket at the end of class. These can come in many formats. You can use a digital polling tool to get immediate statistics from student responses, or you might ask for more open-ended feedback from students. It could even be a quick fist to five show of fingers to indicate students’ level of understanding. This is quick, efficient, and can help you determine the best next steps for your class. You can find some sample exit ticket templates and strategies in the AVID Open Access Ed Tip: Exit Tickets.
These are helpful guides for both formative and summative work. They give you an efficient way to evaluate specific criteria while keeping the evaluation focused on standards-aligned criteria. They are typically meaningful to students and easy for them to understand. These evaluation tools can help speed up the correcting process and keep your feedback focused.
Late work can be challenging and time consuming to manage, so whenever possible, create a late work system that is simple and efficient for you to manage. This system should make it easy for students to know what to do and easy for you to know when late work is submitted. To help students manage this process, design a consistent place where daily expectations and assignments are posted. If you use a learning management system, this is probably your best option since it’s generally secure and easy to access. You may choose to list details on an internal calendar or perhaps use a daily message board. Another great option is to embed a slideshow onto the main page with an outline of the work for that day. Students can navigate to the date they missed, see what the class learned, and get the assignments.
In addition to a consistent place for posting daily work, create a consistent system for submitting late work. If the work has been done on paper, consider a late work submission bin or tray. This tells you at a glance if there is late work to review. If the work is digital, it can be hard to know when something has been submitted after you’ve already reviewed class work. In this case, you might ask students to email you that they turned in late work. If you’d rather not have email, you can have them submit a paper note in a late work tray or bin on your desk. This will cue you to look for a late submission and save you the task of checking every assignment each day for newly submitted late work.
Be intentional about what you assign as homework. Ask yourself if the work is helping the student to grow or if it’s just busy work to keep students on task at the end of a class period. Busy work is frustrating for students and can consume valuable teacher time. Be kind to both yourself and your students by only assigning work that is meaningful, necessary, and that will help your students to grow.