Giving students feedback

Feedback is important for the learning process. It is one of the most important ways to positively influence your students’ learning results. To achieve this, feedback needs to be informative and actually reach the student. In the end, the effect feedback has is dependent on what the student chooses to do with it.

Feed up, feed back and feed forward

According to Hattie & Timperley, effective feedback answers three questions:

  1. Feed up: What are you working towards?
    This question can be answered using the learning objectives and the assessment criteria or rubric.
  2. Feed back: Where do you currently stand?
    The answer to this question can be found by evaluating a student's current work or behaviour.
  3. Feed forward: What can you do to achieve your goal?
    You answer this question by telling the student how to improve.

Constructive feedback

Constructive feedback not only tells a student what goes well and what doesn’t, but also gives suggestions on how to improve. This does not mean you have to tell the student what exactly they have to do, but that you try to steer them in a certain direction and/or way of thinking. There are a couple of pointers that help you make your feedback (more) constructive:

  • Be specific on what the feedback is about. In order to point out where to improve, you could refer to a specific situation or part of the text that the feedback is about.
  • Give the student room to react or ask specifically for a reaction. This way you can determine whether the student understands the feedback and discuss what they are going to do with it.
  • Only refer to the student’s work and not to the student as a person. For example, don’t say that the student didn’t handle something right, but talk about where in their process they made a mistake.
  • Give feedback as soon as possible after the student handed in their work or certain behaviour took place. Be careful when making assumptions. For example, don’t assume a student has put little time into searching for literature, but ask them why they cite little literature.
  • In your feedback, write about what you observe in the work and the process of the student. Be careful with making assumptions when doing so. For example, do not assume a student has spent little time searching for literature, but ask the student why they have not cited much literature.
  • Besides ways to improve, name what the student has done well also. Giving positive feedback can motivate students and help them understand what parts they already master.

Written feedback

Written feedback offers students the possibility to read your feedback whenever they find convenient. This gives them the chance to reflect on how they want to use and incorporate your feedback. Because you as a lecturer are not present when the student reads the feedback, they might interpret the feedback in a way different from what you meant. That is why it is handy to discuss the written feedback or at least offer students the chance to react.

Be careful with rewriting students’ texts when giving feedback. It helps to keep in mind why you are giving feedback: is it to improve the product or result, or to improve students’ skills? Rewriting can be a good way to illustrate what exactly you meant with your feedback. But be sure to leave enough room for students to make their own adjustments, because that is when they learn most from feedback.

The Write Space at Radboud in'to Languages

Would you like to learn how to give students targeted feedback on the linguistic quality of their written work? Check out the possibilities The Write Space has to offer. This is an interactive learning environment for lecturers where you learn more about providing personalised linguistic feedback.

Oral feedback

With oral feedback, students can directly react to your instructions. This gives you the chance to ask students how they interpret your feedback. Furthermore, you can respond to students’ reactions, for example when you see a student struggling with the feedback they received. You can make the feedback moment more informative and educational by asking students to reflect on the feedback and their work or behaviour.

A feedback moment can be overwhelming for students, because they receive all feedback at once. To check what the student takes home from the conversation, you can ask them to explain in their own words what the most important feedback was. Furthermore, it might be handy to combine oral with written feedback, so students can go through the feedback again whenever they find convenient.


Do you have any questions or do you need more information? The Teaching Information Point of your faculty will be happy to assist you.