Feedback that Nourishes Mind and Heart

Cliff Rouder

I’ll never forget the feedback I received from two professors when I was an undergraduate (and here, I’m quoting them): “You missed the point of this question–badly!” and “Pretty good about what Sewall thought; totally baffling about why.” The first gem was on a practice question to help me prepare for the big essay exam. We call this formative feedback, where there’s an opportunity to put into practice the feedback we’re given. The second gem was feedback on a big essay; we call this summative feedback coming at the end of a unit or instruction. It’s designed to be evaluative and typically counts for a significant portion of the course grade. 

Did either of these gems accomplish anything except deflate my motivation? The answer is a resounding NO for those of you playing at home. Now fast forward a couple of decades. As a conscientious instructor early on in my career, I’ll never forget returning students’ papers on which I must have spent 50 hours providing massive amounts of feedback, only to watch a few students crumple up their papers right in front of me and shoot a 3-pointer into the trash can. Woah!

The feedback we give to students–what it focuses on, how it’s expressed, how much we give, and how frequently we give it–can have a positive (or in my case above, negative) impact on motivation, and thus, on learning. Do I remember getting feedback that was motivating? Absolutely. Try this one on for size and take a moment to reflect on how it differs from the less than helpful feedback above:

“I like where you’re going in this paragraph because you’re leading me to your main argument. What I’d like you to think about is how to better connect it to the prior paragraph.

Okay, now here’s something I can work with. I was on track with the second paragraph but needed to make a better connection between the first and second paragraph. I could do that.

L. Dee Fink, a noted teaching and faculty development consultant, uses the acronym FIDeLity to describe characteristics of useful feedback





The last two are not self-evident, so let me explain what he means by “discriminating” and “loving.” “Discriminating” feedback targets the most important areas for improvement. By “loving,” Fink refers to the spirit in which the feedback is expressed, i.e., wanting your students to improve rather than wanting to demoralize or discourage (see again the two pieces of feedback above). While the feedback I gave in my early teaching career was meant to be loving, the sea of red ink calling out every little thing I found positive and negative was hardly that–nor was it discriminating. Lesson learned.

At this point you may be thinking, “Yeah, yeah, this all sounds good, but in the real world, I teach large lectures and don’t have endless hours to give FIDeLity feedback. Besides, students don’t seem to use my feedback anyway, so nice try.” Both are legitimate concerns, so let’s look at strategies for giving FIDeLity feedback in the real world

  • Rubrics to the rescue! Providing students with a grading rubric along with the assignment gives them a roadmap for success. It also saves you time on the back end by streamlining the grading process and minimizing the crafting of individualized feedback. There are different types of rubrics you can create, and you can even create and use them directly in Canvas. And to kick it up a notch, consider providing examples of a strong and weak assignment along with the grading rubric, and let THEM practice grading
  • Peer review! You don’t always have to be the one giving feedback. Incorporate opportunities in class and outside of class for peer review. By assessing others’ work, students improve their ability to diagnose issues in their own work. However, keep in mind that you will need to provide guidance for students on how to understand your rubric’s criteria and give constructive and “loving” feedback. 
  • Tech can help! Providing audio or audiovisual feedback in Canvas Speedgrader is quick, more personalized, and helps students zero in on the two or three most important areas to work on. Creating polling questions in Canvas and Poll Everywhere can help students self-assess, and enable you to identify gaps in knowledge and give global feedback to the whole class.
  • Look for patterns! There are usually themes among the errors students make and in what they did well on a particular assessment. Share those with the class rather than commenting on them to each student individually.
  • Ask for accountability! Have students demonstrate they’ve used the feedback you do provide. Have them include in a brief statement how they incorporated your feedback the next time a draft or similar assignment is due

Okay, your turn! Let’s keep this conversation going by posting to our new Faculty Teaching Commons. Go to TUportal, click on your Faculty Tools tab, then click on the Faculty Teaching Commons link. How “FIDeLity” is your feedback? What are the feedback techniques you’ve found effective? Inquiring minds want to know!

As always, if you’d like assistance with giving feedback to your students, one of our faculty developers or educational technology specialists are ready to help. Make an appointment here or email a CAT staff member directly. 

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