The 7 Hallmarks of Effective Feedback

A teacher and student looking at a computer and smiling.

In this guest post, educator Liz Nell describes how to take your feedback to the next level.

As educators, we inherently know that feedback is important. But why is feedback such a powerful learning tool? What can it accomplish? And how can you best leverage feedback to achieve the desired results?

Over the past two decades, the body of research on academic feedback has gained significant attention. Effective feedback has been shown to dramatically accelerate learner growth — equivalent to eight additional months of in-class time per year. Feedback drives other tangible results, too. It has been found to immediately boost test scores and school culture, resulting in lower failure rates, fewer suspensions, and better attendance. In short, effective feedback is an ingredient for success!

A Model for Academic Feedback

To provide effective feedback on written responses, teachers need a tool they can rely on for quick grading. CommonLit makes it easy to provide targeted, high-quality responses on short writing assignments.

CommonLit lets teachers give feedback that aligns with the research-backed framework we use at The Graide Network, “The Seven Hallmarks of Effective Feedback”. Our model is adapted from renowned educator Grant Wiggin’s feedback and assessment work, and has been honed to apply specifically to student writing. Using this research framework, let’s explore how CommonLit can help teachers excel in the critical art of responding to student work.

The grading page on CommonLit.org for the text "Alexander Hamilton." Teacher feedback for a student response is shown.

Keys to Effective Feedback on Short Answer Responses

So what makes feedback effective? There are a number of key components. When responding to short response writing in the CommonLit platform, there are four key things to keep in mind:

Goal-oriented: Feedback on student work should be tied to specific, measurable learning goals, objectives, or standards. When giving feedback, try to link your comments to the expectations laid out in the assignment prompt and rubric. Directly reference the prompt and rubric components, using similar language where possible. This helps students understand where they are in relation to the stated goals.

Prioritized: Feedback should be concise and focused on the areas of strength and growth that will have the greatest impact on the student’s writing. It isn’t feasible or advisable to provide feedback on every aspect of a student’s writing. Concise, focused feedback is more digestible for students and easier to internalize and implement. You will have to make judgement calls on where to focus. Think bite-sized and prioritized.

Actionable: Feedback should be so specific that the student immediately knows how to take action. Your comments should clearly describe their successes and shortfalls and directly reference the student’s work in order to point the student to their next steps. To advance students’ metacognition and enable them to self-assess their work, ask probing questions that will spark thoughtful reflection and a new understanding for how to develop their work.

Student-Friendly: Feedback should be personalized and engaging to ensure it reaches the student. To aid student acceptance of feedback, respond like a reader who is seeking to understand what the student has written. An encouraging, positive tone will go far in helping students accept your feedback and apply it to future work. Be sure to use language that is clear and not too technical.

Learning to Action

Now that we understand the key ingredients for responding to short response, let’s take a look at a real example for a student response to The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.

Carlos was asked to answer the question: “How does the poet’s use of personification in the poem contribute to the theme? Use at least one piece of cited evidence in your response.”

The top of the CommonLit text "The New Colussus."

Here is Carlos’ response:
In the text, the poet writes that the Statue of Liberty “glows world-wide welcome.” This is an example of personification that the author uses to explain the impact that the Statue of Liberty has. In other words, the words the author uses helps the reader see that she represents freedom for immigrants from around the world.

Here’s how you might provide feedback to Carlos:

  • Carlos, you did a good job reframing the question in your response and you choose a relevant and accurate example of personification.
  • I like your analysis of the personification of the State of Liberty, but you’ve missed explaining exactly how it supports the theme. Remember, the theme is what the work reveals about a universal topic. Re-read the poem and try to answer: what is the central theme? How does the personification example you chose reveal this theme to the reader? Don’t forget to use evidence to explain the connection you’re making!

What makes this feedback effective?

First, it is goal-oriented as it ties directly back to the prompt and how well the student answered it. It’s student-friendly because it is personalized and engaging. Asking probing questions of the student is a great strategy to get them thinking and implementing feedback more effectively. This feedback is actionable because it references Carlos’ work and includes actionable questions for the student. Finally, this feedback is prioritized. It focuses on the writer’s greatest strengths (restating the question, choosing an effective example) as well as the areas of growth that will have the biggest impact on the writing (connecting example with theme, citing evidence).

For teachers who want to take student writing and feedback even further, I’d highly recommend using the CommonLit discussion questions as essay prompts. It’s a fun and effective way to support extended writing off-platform.

A Discussion Question from the CommonLit text "Why Sit Here and Die."

This discussion question from Maria W. Stewart’s speech, ‘Why Sit Here and Die’ would make a great prompt for a 5 paragraph essay, with each body paragraph relating to a different piece of evidence — one from the text, one personal experience, and one from another literary or historical source.

Three Additional Keys to Effective Feedback in Practice

When you’re building a feedback framework into your practice , there are a few additional things to keep in mind to make sure your feedback is most effective:

  • Ongoing, Consistent and Timely: To be effective, feedback must also be ongoing, consistent, and timely. This means that students need ample opportunities to use feedback and that the feedback must be accurate, trustworthy and stable. When feedback isn’t timely, students are disengaged and demotivated. As a teacher, it’s important to be intentional when you think about assigning work and strive to build regular feedback loops into your classroom.

Go Forth and Engage Students with Confidence!

Effectively responding to student writing has never been more important. Today’s students are producing an enormous variety of work on a near daily basis that is more dynamic and less formulaic than ever before, enabled by new mediums and a shift away from one-size-fits-all teaching models. The CommonLit platform is a perfect example of this — it’s an amazing tool that gives students increased opportunities to read and practice writing and it makes it easy for teachers to provide feedback. Win-win.

The next time you assign your students a text in the CommonLit platform, I highly encourage you to practice your effective feedback skills. Your students will thank you for it!

About the Author

Liz is the founder of The Graide Network, an education company specializing in feedback on extended response and essay writing. Visit their website to learn more or reach out to liz@thegraidenetwork.com — she’d love to hear from you!