Feedback and Reporting Language

One thing that is very important for the implementation of Formative Assessment, is the language you use to report your feedback to the students. To this end I wanted to look into some effective language use to communicate feedback.

One really important point that I have seen discussed in numerous different places, is effective and proper use of praise. Historically, praise was often used to uplift a student on their achievements and show them the accurately completed their goals. This lead to an interesting problem, in which students began to care a lot more about the receiving praise, than growing and learning. Students who are told “Wow good job, you are so smart”, are unlikely to continue trying to solve more difficult problems for fear of failure. This is called a Performance Avoidance Mindset. These are students who perform exclusively for extrinsic motivation; they want to be told they are smart, again and again. If they are forced to work hard on something in order to complete it, and do not receive the praise they were expecting or hoping for, they are unlikely to try again. And that makes sense. It also makes sense that if you are giving Assessment OF Learning, it is very likely you will give this kind of feedback; the student either did well or poorly, nothing else matters.

However, if you instead say “Wow great effort, you worked so hard and this [insert specific example] part of your assignment was really great because of [insert specific reason]”, you are going to get a very different response from your student. This response is doing two very important things differently that the first example. One is very obvious, and that is the specificity of the feedback. Your assessment is showing that you really focused on something the student did well. The student can tell that you really cared about their efforts. And on the topic of effort, that is the second great part of this feedback. The emphasis on praise of effort over achievement has been shown to increase further growth and encourage a Growth Mindset, or a Mastery Approach Mindset. These students are highly likely to try something more difficult, or beyond their immediate skill level because they believe it really doesn’t matter whether or not they succeed, what matters is that they try their best and work hard.

Of course this is not enough and it is important to inform students of how they can improve. At this point though, when you have a student who is already in the mindset of being prepared to learn and improve, any constructive feedback you give is more likely to be accepted as constructive and to reflect on it to improve.

This is just one example of a way to use appropriate language for student feedback. There are many many things to remember when reporting to students.

Here are a few links to sites that discuss this problem:

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