Assessing students

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The principles of feedback

 Prioritise your ideas and understand their value. Limit your feedback to the most important issues. Consider the potential value of the feedback to the student. Consider how you yourself would respond to such feedback (would you be able to act on it?). Remember also that receiving too much feedback at one time can be overwhelming for the student.

Concentrate on the work, not the student. Remember that you're discussing the work, not the student - try to keep all of your feedback centred on the academic aspects of the assessment, and how it relates to the course outcomes.

Balance the content. Use the “sandwich approach”. Begin by providing comments on specific strengths, to give reinforcement and identify things the recipient should keep doing. Then identify specific areas for improvement and ways to make changes. Conclude with a positive comment. This model helps to bolster the student's confidence and keeps weaker areas in perspective. Example: “Your presentation was great. You made good eye contact and were well prepared. You were a little hard to hear at the back of the room, but with some practice you can overcome this. Keep up the good work!” Instead of:“You didn’t speak loudly enough, but otherwise the presentation went well."

Be specific. Avoid general comments that may be of limited use to the student. Try to include examples to illustrate your statements. Remember, too, that offering alternatives rather than just giving advice allows the student to decide what to do with your feedback.

Be realistic. Feedback should focus on what can be changed. It's frustrating for students to get comments on things over which they have no control. Also, remember to avoid using the words always and never

 Be timely. Find an appropriate time to communicate your feedback. Being prompt is key because feedback loses its impact if it's delayed too long. Also, if your feedback is primarily negative, take time to prepare what you will say or write.

Offer continuing support. Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. After offering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up. Let students know you're available if they have questions and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.

These principles have been adapted from Receiving and giving effective feedback 


Some sentence starters for sensitive feedback

Receiving Feedback Effectively
• Listen to the feedback given. This means not interrupting. Hear the person out, and listen
to what they are really saying, not what you assume they will say. You can absorb more
information if you are concentrating on listening and understanding rather than being
defensive and focusing on your response.
• Be aware of your responses. Your body language and tone of voice often speak louder than
words. Try to avoid putting up barriers. If you look distracted and bored, that sends a
negative message as well. Attentiveness, on the other hand, indicates that you value what
someone has to say and puts both of you at ease.
• Be open. This means being receptive to new ideas and different opinions. Often, there is
more than one way of doing something and others may have a completely different
viewpoint on a given topic. You may learn something worthwhile.
• Understand the message. Make sure you understand what is being said to you, especially
before responding to the feedback. Ask questions for clarification if necessary. Listen
actively by repeating key points so that you know you have interpreted the feedback
correctly. In a group environment, ask for others’ feedback before responding. As well,
when possible, be explicit as to what kind of feedback you are seeking beforehand so you are
not taken by surprise.
• Reflect and decide what to do. Assess the value of the feedback, the consequences of
using it or ignoring it, and then decide what to do because of it. Your response is your
choice. If you disagree with the feedback, consider asking for a second opinion from
someone else.
• Follow up. There are many ways to follow up on feedback. Sometimes, your follow-up
will simply involve implementing the suggestions given to you. In other situations, you
might want to set up another meeting to discuss the feedback or to re-submit the revised

There are two key things to consider here.

Firstly, think about where and when you are going to provide the 'sensitive' feedback.

Secondly, be careful of your non-verbal language and use 'I' statements. Some good examples appear below.

  • I’m noticing that….
  • It appeared as though….
  • I was wondering why….
  • I observed that some students seemed uncomfortable with ….
  • The/Some students appeared to be …… (confused, uncertain, distracted etc.)
  • Feedback based on personal experience
  • I have found that ….
  • Perhaps you could consider trying ……
  • In my class I’m thinking of trying ……
  • I think that situation was really tricky because …..
  • I have experience a similar situation …. (empathic response)

Taken from RMIT's Giving feedback