Search form

Everything Teachers Need to Know About Feedback


A few months ago, I heard what could be characterized as an angry tirade. A teacher was unleashing a good deal of frustration toward a group of students, and the source of her angst was that after providing detailed feedback on an assignment, nobody had opened the comments or used them to revise their work. While I have been in that situation many times before and can empathize, few students feel motivated to behave differently after being yelled at. On the other hand, teachers spend so much time grading only to become justifiably upset when work that is handed back goes immediately into the trash can. What can be done to not only help students take feedback more seriously, but to also ensure that the feedback we provide is clear and useful in moving achievement forward?

What is Feedback?

First, it is important to define what the word “feedback” really means. When teachers look at work and provide comments to help students do better next time, the information they give should be objective in terms of where performance stands in relation to a provided standard for an assignment or assessment. As an analogy, think about how someone might measure success during a workout. If the stated goal is to run three miles in 30 minutes and it takes 32 instead, that means that from a factual standpoint, the runner did not meet the expressed target. When teachers grade, providing feedback that does not place subjective value on the result (i.e., that does not stigmatize a product as “good” or “bad” but is fact-based) ensures that students are more able to focus on their work rather than on personal perception. The best way to provide feedback of this nature is to create clear criteria for success, which we will look at in a little more detail. But first, what other kinds of information do teachers give students when they grade assignments, and why are they not examples of feedback?

The Roles of Guidance and Evaluation

Too often, both guidance and evaluation are mistaken for feedback when they are something quite different. For example, teachers and students often share the common misconception that a numerical or letter grade equals feedback. While a grade does impart a small degree of information to students, it doesn’t give them any specific information about how to improve their work or tell them why certain parts of an assignment might have been more successful than others. That is why a grade can be classified as a type of evaluation, but not as feedback. Along similar lines, teachers provide suggestions for future work or improvement, and this guidance can help students move forward. However, the guidance itself is not the feedback; it is focused on the future, whereas effective feedback tells students how they are doing at the present moment based on a specific assignment or task. There is an important role for both guidance and evaluation in how students understand their success. For the purpose of clarity, however, knowing that these two elements do not constitute effective feedback is important.

Doing Better

To move forward in a way that is most conducive to improving student learning, the key is to lay the groundwork for objective feedback before students ever complete an assignment. Most often, that translates to how teachers set up criteria for success on any given task. If we aspire to provide students with feedback that is objective, free of judgment and clear to all, the criteria for success on every assignment must be delineated in kid-friendly language before anyone ever begins to work on a task. Then, when we provide feedback for completed work, students can look down the checklist of expectations (i.e., the criteria for success) and see what they did, what they did not do, and what could be improved. In other words, just like the runner trying to hit a specific outcome, students will have a fact-based point of reference that tells them how successful they have been for each assignment or assessment as it comes. Teachers also stand to benefit from setting up the criteria for success prior to assigning or grading work, as it helps pinpoint what exactly we’re looking for, the way we plan to measure it, and how the learning target will be transparent for every child in our classes.

If students are going to buy into the process of receiving focused feedback to increase their potential for growth, then teachers need to make the process as transparent as possible. When we talk to students about providing them with feedback, sharing the purpose behind giving clear criteria for success helps everyone understand that the work we do in class reflects an ongoing pursuit of learning rather than a series of finite points. Only then can teachers expect students to spend time looking at the work we hand back, and only then can feedback become an experience that is widely valued by all. 

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

Copyright© 2022 Education World