Evaluating Writing Feedback Teaching Writing

Characteristics of Effective Feedback

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Writing intensive courses are built on the concept that students improve as writers when they are given frequent opportunities to revise their writing based upon feedback from faculty.  While providing feedback can seem simple, many writing teachers recognize that the task is complex, and it’s common for faculty to feel unsure of how best to provide feedback on writing.  In consultations and informal conversations, faculty often ask us: how do I provide effective feedback, and what should I be mindful of as I provide my student’s feedback?

Writing specialists often emphasize that feedback should be oriented toward future performance.  As education researcher Grant Wiggins describes it in a September 2012 issue of Educational Leadership, feedback is essentially “information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.”  In this way, feedback should help students learn not only how well they have performed on a given task but also provide advice on what they need to continue to work on.  This second part often causes difficulty for faculty and students alike.  So below, we list the seven essential characteristics of effective feedback, as described by Wiggins:

  • Goal-Referenced: students and faculty alike should have clear learning goals, and those goals need to be referenced in feedback.
  • Tangible and Transparent: feedback needs to be written in a way that students will understand what they are being told.
  • Actionable: students should have (a) specific tasks that they can act upon.
  • User-friendly: the tasks need to be feasible and help students prioritize their next steps; feedback should also not overwhelm students with too much information or too many tasks.
  • Timely: feedback should be provided while students are still thinking about their projects.
  • Ongoing: students need to have the opportunity to use the feedback.
  • Consistent: feedback should be consistent with instruction and systems of evaluation.

You can read more about Wiggins’ descriptions on the Educational Leadership and TeachThought websites.