Feedback is important for student confidence, engagement, and growth. How important? According to Edutopia: “Feedback has the potential to double the rate of learning” for students. That relies, of course, on the quality of the feedback. Feedback quality, they say, can be “increased when students are clear on expectations, when teachers take a coaching role, and when feedback is provided to students in class when they are learning information.” That last element of effective feedback has been challenging during the pandemic.
However, after many months of experience with remote and hybrid classroom management, K-12 teachers have learned new ways to ensure that the feedback they’re providing to their students is as effective online as in in-person classroom settings.
The Challenges of Providing Online Feedback
In an article for the Oxford Education Blog, Lindsay Bruce, a history teacher and assistant head teacher in a secondary school, writes: “One thing most people agree with is that feedback is the key to student progress in the virtual classroom.” Unfortunately, she acknowledges, this is definitely a more challenging environment for providing feedback.
She says: “Something to bear in mind when giving feedback virtually is that students’ working memory is likely in overload as they try and ignore their phone/TV, they might also have to answer the door, deal with siblings or just stare into space without being prompted back into the room!”
So, what are the best ways for teachers to provide feedback in the virtual classroom? Here we share some suggestions from K-12 teachers who have had ample experience with providing feedback in an online environment over the past several months.
Best Practices on Giving Feedback in a Virtual Environment
In a virtual environment, says Akanksha Bajaj, Senior Curriculum Manager at Juni Learning, “teachers can use many tools and best practices to ensure that students are receiving the feedback productively and acting on it with urgency.” Feedback, she says, “is a gift.” That’s only true, though, she says, when it’s “provided in a way that’s timely, constructive, and concise and in an environment that is supportive.”
Others agree. And, while technology tools can certainly be a great aid for providing feedback in a digital learning environment, foundationally the strategies behind effective feedback are the same whether in online or in-person environments.
Praise in Public, Offer Constructive Feedback in Private
The old advice of praising in public and offering constructive feedback in private is as relevant in online environments as in the classroom.
Shelley Kenow is a certified special education teacher, tutor, sub, author, IEP consultant and master IEP coach. Kenow recommends using private chat to give corrective feedback, but always taking the opportunity to praise children through the main feed. That’s not only reinforcing for the child being praised but helpful to others as well, she says.
“When a child who is exhibiting a wanted behavior is praised in front of everyone, it often prompts the others to do that same behavior,” she says.
Technology like Class provides multiple ways for teachers to connect individually with students to provide private feedback—chat, breakout rooms with just the teacher and student, annotated assignments, etc.
Be Sincere, Specific, and Positive
The best and most effective feedback, says Kenow, is “sincere, specific, positive feedback for exhibiting a wanted behavior.” For example, she says, “praising kids who log in every day without fail, praising someone who logs in on time, praising focus and attention during the online class, praising the fact a student tried something new, or for the first time was able to complete all the tasks in the allotted time,” etc.
“I also let my students know every day that I was happy they were in attendance and giving effort,” Kenow says. “Virtual school for most of my students is very difficult so just the fact they showed up, stayed with me during the lesson, and gave effort during the class deserves praise and recognition.”
Use Frequent Formative Assessments
Formative assessments can help both students and teachers; they provide input that can be used to modify teaching and learning activities while also allowing teachers an opportunity to assess students’ learning.
“Have formative assessments often and design virtual workshops in response to student performance,” suggests Bajaj. She recommends using “exit tickets” at the end of each session to conduct quick and effective formative assessments. “These can be done through Google Forms, Kahoot, and similar online tools,” she says. “After reviewing student responses, teachers should create workshops to address the different needs that have been identified. To run these workshops, teachers can create breakout rooms with specifically tailored lessons, assignments, and outcomes.”
Lindy Hockenbary is a K-12 education and technology trainer, former classroom teacher, and the author of A Teacher’s Guide to Online Learning. Hockenbary recommends using video for providing feedback in virtual classroom settings. “The research indicates that the use of teacher-created videos in virtual learning can help develop a quasi-relationship between teacher and student,” she says. Teachers can use video, she says, “to subtly and strategically build relationships in virtual learning environment”—feedback can be a major part of this content. There are many tools available for making these videos, Hockenbary says. She recommends using a screencasting tool, like Screencastify or Loom.
“A screencast video is a video recording of a computer screen that usually includes audio narration,” Hockenbary says. “The teacher can share their screen and visually show the learning task discussed. Then, turn on their webcam to have the view of the teacher appear in the video as well.” Record and copy the video link to share with the student.
Engage Students in Giving Feedback
Finally, consider getting students involved in sharing feedback with each other.
Bajaj recommends using Zoom breakout rooms to offer students an opportunity to give peer feedback to each other. “Receiving feedback from a teacher can often feel like a judgment,” she says. Placing students into small breakout groups of 2-3 people and asking them to review each other’s work against a provided rubric, she says, can help students improve their own performance as they become aware of identifying gaps in others’ performance.
Providing student feedback in the online environment is different than in traditional classroom settings. It’s not, though, less effective. In fact, leveraging some of the technology options available online—like chat, breakout rooms, on-demand video, etc., provide flexible options for teachers to select based on their course content and student age.
Download the eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Engaging Students in the Virtual Classroom, for practical advice on how to create experiences in the online classroom that empower and engage students.