Giving effective feedback is an art form that every top class tutor should perfect.
A student that receives great feedback during the lesson walks out of the door feeling confident and motivated to keep improving.
A student that receives poor feedback will feel the opposite, and might even end up dreading the next class.
When we talk about feedback, we don’t only mean saying things like ‘great job’ or ‘C-‘. We’re talking about how to correct students errors so that they can learn in the future, without destroying their confidence.
Sure, it may seem like a delicate balancing act, but if you implement the following steps into the way you teach, you’ll be delivering top-quality feedback that will help your students learn more:
1. Praise them, and be genuine about it.
Never underestimate just how much of a difference the smallest bit of praise can make. Sure, some of your students may act ‘cool’ and indifferent, but – trust me – they’ll privately remember every bit of positive feedback you give them.
Praise is a majorly useful tool for every tutor, so it’s important to use it correctly:
- Avoid giving too much praise. If you very deliberately praise a student at every turn of the lesson, it will become meaningless and lose its effect.
- NEVER praise a mistake or error. Even if your students may look like they need a confidence boost, praising mistakes will only hinder them in the long term (see ways to provide constructive criticism below).
- Instead of simply saying ‘good job’, explain why they did a good job. Just because a student gave you the right answer, doesn’t mean they know how they got there. Repeating their process back to them will help them do it again in the future.
2. Make sure your corrections are educational
Never be afraid to correct students’ mistakes – that’s why they need your help!
There is, however, a right way and a wrong way to highlight errors during the class. Luckily, it’s incredibly straightforward:
- THE WRONG WAY: Simply saying ‘no, that’s not correct’, or ‘incorrect’ etc. This will only leave your student feeling helpless and shamed.
- THE RIGHT WAY: Make the feedback constructive and educative! Every piece of feedback you give must have some sort of educational value. When you correct an error, explain why it was an error and how to correct it.
<span=”s1″>In short, every time you give feedback, you are helping your student take one step forwards. And, over time, seeing habitual mistakes become a thing of the past is endlessly rewarding, for both you and your students.
3. Give understandable feedback
You may have a master’s degree in Literature, but keep in mind that your student doesn’t. When you give them feedback, make sure you grade your language to their level.
Don’t use hugely technical terms that they don’t need to know for their exams. And, if they do need to know some technical terms – don’t assume that they do right away. If all a student hears is a garbled mishmash of difficult words, they’ll end up feeling inadequate.
Explain mistakes in a simple and clear way, which the students will be able to understand and relate to. They’ll progress at a much faster rate.
4. Give them a model
Sometimes you’ll stumble upon something that your students just won’t be able to get their head around, and need a little push in the right direction.
This is where you present a model (or example) of how to answer the question at hand.
Of course, model answers will be different in every subject, but they should all have a few key things in common. They should:
- Be simple and as short as possible.
- Clearly demonstrate the process the student needs to learn to get the correct answer.
- Be easy for a student to replicate, and use themselves.
Before every class, it’s a good idea to quickly sift through your lesson plan and try to predict what your students might have the most problems with.
5. It’s all about the process, NOT natural ability
The philosophy that learning is a process, and nothing to do with being a natural genius, should be the backbone of all of the feedback that you give.
Research has shown that students see their studies as an achievable process are more motivated and perform better. On the other hand, students that saw academic achievement as a question of genetics and natural ability, struggled.
As a tutor, rather than a school teacher, you have a unique opportunity to help your students realise that they can achieve whatever they want. You can do this when you give feedback, by:
- Keeping them in the know about their progress. If they no longer make a mistake that they used to make regularly, tell them!
- Not becoming over-excited when they get something right. Simple praise is enough – an amazed ‘WOW, YOU GOT IT RIGHT!’ gives the impression that the tutor is insincere, which can demotivate them!
- Set feedback goals at the beginning of the lesson. Let’s say you’re a French teacher. Try agreeing on one part of French grammar that you’re going to focus on in that class, with your student. Targeting one area for a day’s feedback will help your students see their progress.
6. Think about timing
The timing of your feedback can be the difference between a student learning from their mistakes, or forgetting what you said.
Most people agree that, as a general rule of thumb: the sooner the better! For a number of reasons:
- Students will be able to feel that they’re making progress.
- Students will know that when they aren’t being corrected, they’re getting everything right. A huge confidence boost.
- Giving delayed feedback makes it more difficult for students to connect with what you’re telling them.
We should note, things are a little different for language teachers. If you correct every mistake a student makes whilst they try to speak in German, it might take two hours to finish a short conversation.
If you are teaching a language, decide on two or three areas that you’ll focus on that day, and only interrupt when they come up. In the meantime, make a note of the other general errors, and go through them at the end of the lesson.
7. Consider ‘sandwiching’ corrections
If parents are seeking out extra help for their students, there’s a chance it’s because they’re falling behind a little at school.
If this is the case, their confidence may be delicate, so highlighting errors and mistakes requires a little more nous.
This is where ‘sandwiching’ comes in, which (unfortunately) has nothing to do with actual sandwiches. It’s a simple psychological hack that will help students learn from their mistakes AND boost their confidence. It goes like this:
- Praise the student for something they did well.
- Highlight and correct a mistake they made.
- Praise the student for a second thing that they did well.
The feedback is sandwiched in-between the praise, which will show your student that they are capable of succeeding!
8. Ask your students to reflect on their own work first
Asking your students to try and correct their own mistake before you help them is a great practice three key reasons:
- It helps students recognise their ‘fossilised’ errors (mistakes they make without even thinking).
- It helps your students to develop their critical thinking skills.
- It involves your students in the learning process, and gives them some responsibility.
9. Try using visual clues
When a tutor gives feedback, their voice is not their only tool!
Visual cues add a little variety to your correction techniques, and for some learners, they’re actually more effective.
Visual cues could include:
- Raising a red pen when students make a mistake. Give them a moment to see if they can correct their answer and, if not, help them.
- Use post-it notes to keep track of the errors you’ve corrected together. If an error is repeated for a second time, simply point to the post-it note.
- Assign coloured counters to errors that arise time and time again. Every time the student makes that error, give them a counter. It’ll help them think more carefully when they answer questions.
Feedback is often underestimated by tutors, because it seems simple on the surface.
In reality, the more thought that you put towards the feedback that you give, the higher quality your lessons will be.
Think about how you could improve your feedback, and try applying some of the ideas above.