Why Effective Teachers Provide Constructive Feedback to Their Students

If you have been following my work, you know I spent 7 years a K-12 teacher and 7 years as a university professor, eventually becoming the dean of a school of education. As a teacher, I was passionate about helping students reach their academic potential and become productive citizens. As a professor and education dean, I was devoted to developing the next generation of teachers and education administrators. For the last two and a half years, I have been an education entrepreneur, launching an education company, Lynch Educational Consulting, which also manages the following web properties: The EdvocateThe Tech Edvocate, and Edupedia.

However, I often miss being in the classroom, and when I do, I usually channel this energy in an article, resource, or project that will benefit educators everywhere. This time I decided to create a series of case studies that are meant to help pre-service teachers get a glimpse into the problems and issues that they will encounter in the field. These case studies will also give them a chance to reflect on how they can use each scenario to inform their own practice. Let’s get started.

The process of giving your students feedback can have a positive or negative impact on their academic performance. For some teachers, this comes naturally, and others must work at. To give you an idea of what calamities can happen when your feedback turns into mocking and unconstructive criticism, read the case study below, entitled “Consuela’s Dilemma.” Afterward, reflect on the questions below, using your thoughts to shape your own practice.

Respond to the questions below:

  1. Why do you think Consuela’s students performed poorly on the summative assessment?
  2. Why do you think students would not give Consuela feedback after the test?
  3. What should Consuela change about her pedagogical approach?
  4. How would you deal with the test results? What feedback would you give your students?
  5. What piece of advice do you think the curriculum coordinator will give to her? If you were the curriculum coordinator, what course of action would you suggest?

Consuela’s Dilemma

Consuela has been teaching for a year now. Last year’s lesson plans were designed by the school’s curriculum coordinator. This year she was asked to come up with her own plans. She didn’t struggle with this, because she’d been thoroughly trained in her teacher education program in college. Before designing her plan, she took into account some details she considered to be of importance: the size of the group, age (fourth graders), and what they might be interested in. Although she hadn’t yet met them, she decided to plan activities for different types of students to give all of them the opportunity to succeed in class.

Throughout the first semester, the plan thrived; she did checks for understanding and monitored her students’ progress attentively. She thought that the best way for the children to learn would be to point out their mistakes on the spot, no matter what activity they were performing, and she asked their peers to listen attentively. She moved swiftly through the program, as she’d planned, with students apparently responding positively to her corrective feedback.

 Consuela was shocked by her students’ scores on their first summative assessment. She’d used objective testing techniques: matching and multiple-choice items and a brief essay question. Her students hadn’t complained during the test and didn’t ask many questions, which made her assume they were well prepared for the assessment.

She was at a loss and asked her students for feedback about the test. At first, most of them seemed reluctant to answer. When they did, they couldn’t articulate the reasons why they performed poorly. However, later that day, one of her students approached her and confessed that neither she nor her classmates had understood the tasks and had not asked for fear they would be mocked in front of other children. Consuela thanked her student for the feedback and reflected on her way back home.

 Now, Consuela still can’t understand what the problem had been; she’d assessed them daily for understanding, and the topics were grade appropriate. In fact, she’d taken special care not to include any topics that were beyond their grasp. She decides to consult with the curriculum coordinator the following day.

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