Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Giving feedback effectively and efficiently

Recognising that giving really good formative feedback that achieves all of its aims takes a great deal of academic time, effort and resource. By providing a variety of feedback mechanisms, it is possible to give students the kind of help they need and encourage them to take feedback more seriously. Each of the feedback approaches suggested below has merits and disadvantages, so you can choose on each occasion an approach that best suits the assignment, the level, the subject and the cohort.

Here are some ways in which you can give feedback effectively and efficiently.

Collective oral reports. In these, instead of writing detailed feedback comments on individual assignments by hand or electronically, minimal in-script comments are made and the assessor uses collective time (potentially at the start of a lecture or in a seminar but also perhaps by podcast or virtual meeting) to give an oral report to the group on the cohort’s performance, common mistakes, showing examples of good practice, asking students to judge, say, which of two introductions was considered best and why and so on. Oral feedback can allow the tone of voice, differential emphasis and body language to get key points across and set a supportive mood around feedback. Students thereby can learn from this generic feedback about their own and each others’ strengths and weaknesses and they can ask questions about details they’ve not understood. This makes feedback a shared rather than a solitary experience and gives higher status to the commentary and critique. In this approach, staff mark assignments giving minimal in-text comments and write grades/marks as normal on the work. In the face-to-face context, the tutor provides an overview of class performance and orally remediates errors, clarifies misunderstandings, and praises good practice. It can save a great deal of time, especially with large cohorts.

Collective written reports use a similar approach but in text form rather than orally. As with oral reports, this approach enables students to know how they are doing by comparison with the rest of the course, possibly illustrated graphically, and offers chances to demonstrate good practice. A written report can provide a greater variety of examples of good practice and can offer additional reading suggestions. Of course, it is possible to combine the two methods, providing a written report by email or online, and supplementing this with a live slot so students can interact face-to-face with the assessor. It’s important to let the students know your rationale for using a collective approach, emphasising the benefits of a shared feedback experience.

Model answers with ‘exploded’ text. Just as handbooks for electrical appliances provide labelled diagrams so customers can identify how to use them and how they work, model answers can be designed with illustrative commentary appended to the text in hard copy or on the VLE to show how solutions have been reached and demonstrate good practice as well as illustrating problems and errors. They give students a good idea of what can be expected of them and it is sometimes easier to show students than tell them what is required. Illustrated model answers can be very helpful to students, particularly in the early stages of a programme, as the commentary can indicate why an answer is good, rather than just providing solutions, as is commonly the case with traditional model answers. Staff preparing an assignment can draft one or more model answers, potentially using anonymised extracts from several student’s answers (with their permission). However, caution should be exercised in order to avoid students thinking that model answers provide a recipe for success if copied, or that only one approach is acceptable.

Statement banks. These comprise an extended list of comments relating to key points in a student’s work that can be appended or referred to. Many of us already have a substantial repertoire of frequently-used comments and this approach harnesses a resource you already use. It avoids you writing the same comments repeatedly; allows you to give individual comments additionally to the students who really need them; can be automated with use of technology in the form of rubrics within assessment management systems e.g. Livetext or in Moodle. The tutor identifies a range of regularly used comments written on students’ work. These are collated and numbered, the tutor marks the work and writes numbers on the text of the assignment where specific comments apply, or provides a written (or emailed) detailed commentary which pulls together the appropriate items into continuous prose.

Assignment return proformas. Proformas save assessors writing the same thing repeatedly, help to keep assessors’ comments on track, show how criteria match up to performance and how marks are derived, help students to see what is valued and provide a useful written record. Most assessment management systems can use assignment return sheets well, criteria presented in an assignment brief can be utilised in a proforma, variations in weighting can be clearly identified, a Likert scale or boxes can be used to speed tutor’s responses and space can be provided for individual comments.


Adapted from Chapter 8 of Brown, S. (2015) Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives, London: Palgrave.