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The 5 W's of Effective Feedback

Students bond better with the teachers they interact with personally. And a student will work harder when they are treated with respect and as an individual, rather than just one of many students. One way to receive feedback is by asking questions. The 5 Ws (who, what, where, why, when, and why) are actually a great way to structure effective questions.

Remember that giving feedback or responses about a student’s performance or abilities should always be positive or neutral, never negative. Even constructive criticism can still be positive. 

Teacher to Student Feedback

The teacher can learn what the student’s needs are by asking them questions, making comments or giving constructive criticism on assignments, and giving suggestions during class. These can be done in person, written on a rubric, or even as a graded assignment.

Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses

To be effective and meaningful, the feedback needs to be something the student can realistically do. As the teacher, you can use questions to find out as much as possible about the student's strengths and weaknesses.

For example, let's say you have a student who rarely completes their homework on time. Instead of chastising them for their forgetfulness, you could ask them questions like these:

  1. Who can help you? Do you have an older brother or sister who can help at home?
  2. What parts of the assignment are the most confusing for you?
  3. Where do you study? Do you need a quiet place?
  4. When would you have time to do it?
  5. On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you with this assignment? Why?

Turning Comments into Questions

Another helpful feedback technique is to turn comments into questions. This works well when you want to encourage the student to reach their own conclusions about what needs to change. 

Let's say you're working with a student on an essay. Here are some questions you can ask that might encourage them to think critically about their work in a safe and productive way:

  1. Who is a writer you admire? What do you see in their writing that you could use to strengthen yours?
  2. What about this subject is most appealing to you?
  3. Where in your essay are you the clearest and most direct? Where are you getting off track? 
  4. When does the reader find out your purpose?
  5. Why did you pick the supporting evidence you did?

Student to Teacher Questions

Of course, it always helps when students ask the teachers the right questions. But most of the time, students have no idea what questions to ask. Maybe they simply aren’t interested in the material or don’t understand why they’re learning a particular subject.

But anticipating the "unasked" questions from students can go a long way toward strengthening their understanding. Here are a few questions that could help you understand where your students are at:

  1. Who do you know that can share a different perspective on this topic?
  2. What tools can help me be most successful as we learn about this?
  3. Where can I look to learn more about this information on my own?
  4. When will I use this information?
  5. Why should this matter to me?

This will let you know what and where the problems are, so you can help students understand the material. 

Asking Questions to Get Lesson Feedback

Feedback isn't always about what you're doing wrong. Feedback can reveal what you're doing right. The 5 Ws can also be useful to promote more successful learning environments. For example, if you're teaching a lesson on Cold War history, you could ask these questions to gauge what your students learned most effectively:

  1. Who were the aggressors?
  2. What were the first acts by the Soviets and The Western Block which started the hostilities?
  3. Where was the dividing line between the two?
  4. When did it start?
  5. Why was there no diplomatic answer to the conflict?

They’ll no doubt come up with plenty of questions that will lead to engaging discussions and increased interest as a class. And rather than immediately answering questions, allow the students to discuss among themselves. This will provide a unique opportunity for the students to voice their thoughts.

Effective Feedback Can Fix Classroom Problems

Teachers can’t help their students unless they know where problems are and how to help fix them. If we don't ask questions, it will be more difficult to learn, improve, and meet each other’s needs. The 5 Ws can open doors to new understanding and be of assistance to both students and teachers.

Written by Cathy Bailot
Education World Contributor
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