Teaching Skills: Giving Constructive Feedback and Assessment

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One of the most common questions students ask teachers all over the world is ‘what did I get? and ‘how am I doing? and often: ‘what do I need to do to get a 2.1? Assessment and feedback comprises one of the seven sections of the UK’s annual National Student Survey www.thestudentsurvey.com/ and the data from the survey shows that there is still room for improvement.

Assessment is not just a grading tool; it is also integral to the learning process. It may be used in a variety of ways in your department, so familiarise yourself with current practice and procedures. Whether formative or summative, you need to ask yourself these key questions:

  • What do you want your students to learn?
  • What teaching methods will you use?
  • What assessment criteria and tasks will show they have achieved the learning outcomes?

Formative assessment:

  • Helps students to see how well they are progressing
  • Gives them feedback in time so that they know how they are doing and can improve.
  • Provides you with feedback on the effectiveness of your teaching so that you can make adjustments in time to impact on your students’ learning.
  • Enables students to reflect critically on their own learning which in turn enables them to be more autonomous learners.

The exact nature of the assessment will depend on your subject; some examples are:

  • Diagnostic test at the start of a course to check prior knowledge and skills
  • Precise verbal questions to groups or individuals in seminars
  • Quizzes
  • Presentations by individuals or small groups of students
  • Assignments which students complete and submit for marking.

Timing is key. You need to have time to use the results of the assessment to inform your teaching in time to develop the students’ learning. 

Summative assessment – often comes at the end of a module or programme and may or may not count toward a final qualification. When devising assessments and marking criteria, it is important to:

  • Understand the relevant University-wide advice and codes of practice
  • Familiarise yourself with student handbooks and department practice
  • Get advice, especially with marking criteria and timescales
  • Check that you are not solely responsible for the whole process 

Feedback: giving effective feedback can build a students’ confidence, transform their understanding and motivation and also help them develop key critical skills. Feedback, especially when linked to formative assessment, tutorials or seminars should focus on looking forward and on how to enhance learning. The following well-known acronym, CORBS, gives a good structure for feedback:

Clear: know what you want to say and say it (or write it) clearly and concisely. Don’t try and cover everything: focus on the most important aspects.

Owned: be clear that it is your opinion you are giving. So using ‘I believe’ instead of ‘you are’. If it’s not an opinion: e.g. incorrect use of dangerous equipment – say so.

Regular: regular feedback reinforces the message; it also enables a ‘feedback rapport’ to be established. Feedback needs to be given as close to the event as possible so that students have time to act on your suggestions and apply it in time for the next piece of work..

Balanced: feedback should be a balance of positives and negatives and focus on constructive criticism.

Specific: after receiving feedback, students should be clear what they need to do differently and also what to continue to do well. So: ‘that’s fine’ or ‘50%’ with no comments are not helpful.

And how do you know if the feedback you have given your students is useful? Ask them!

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