6 Ways to Give Effective Virtual Feedback in Less Time

This September — after being tossed into an emergency online teaching stint in March — we’ve been teaching all classes remotely, and most teachers that I speak to are saying that virtual classes are going better now. They’ve learned a lot about how to make their lessons interactive and how to keep students engaged. But it’s a lot of work, and teachers are feeling drained. We all know the importance of self-care in order to survive these challenging times, so we need to find ways to streamline our workload, giving ourselves space for a little “me” time.

Giving students strong feedback has always eaten up teachers’ free time, but now it’s a nightmare — so this is one area where we should learn to work more effectively.

Let’s look at ways to give stronger feedback in less time. We’ll start by accepting the fact that giving feedback is time-consuming; embracing the idea that much of student learning in all subjects comes from clear, specific feedback; and then transforming the way we give feedback so that we can meet our students’ needs and still have a life.

6 ways to transform (and simplify) the feedback loop:

1. Use voice messages. Voice messages are faster than typing and let students hear your tone, so the feedback may sound friendlier. Here are a few tools you can use to deliver audio feedback:

  • The Mote chrome extension allows you to leave voice message feedback on Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets, as well as within Google Classroom. If you want a written transcription or a translation, you have to pay a fee, but otherwise the extension is free.
  • Kaizena Google add-on: free and very easy to use. This add-on  allows you to leave voice messages, to include lessons, videos, etc. which students can watch right next to their work. 
  • Screencastify: in order to walk a student through a piece of work and be able to videotape your screen as well as record your feedback, you can send a Screencastify message. The free version is limited to 5 minute videos, but for most teachers I’ve talked to that seems to be enough.

2. Focus on only one or two criteria for feedback.

  • Give small amounts of feedback often (too much feedback will overwhelm students). 
  • Quickly read through the student’s work and choose the one or two most important issues to address at this moment. Once that’s been addressed or corrected, you can move on to addressing other issues.
  • Keep feedback short and actionable: “Check all your work to make sure you didn’t skip any steps in solving your equations.”
  • Explicitly focus on the success criteria: “You have a strong opinion here. Can you add evidence to support it?”

3. Leverage peer feedback. This can be done well, using a few simple methods:

  • Model feedback: choose a piece of student work (with permission or from another class) and have the class work on giving feedback together.
  • Use group feedback: try working with small groups for peer feedback. I’ve found that small group feedback can be much stronger than feedback given by a single peer, using this protocol.
  • Teach students feedback formats such as TAG (tell something you liked, ask a question, give a suggestion) or glows and grows.
  • Use a rubric or checklist: ask students to focus on certain areas that have been covered, so they know exactly where to give feedback.

4. Teach students self-feedback. Learning to critique their own work is essential to student growth and independence, and you can teach them using the following methods: 

  • Mini-lessons: teach a mini-lesson to the class, then ask students to reflect on their work and decide how they can use the mini-lesson to improve it.
  • Highlighting: have students highlight specific criteria that you’ve asked them to include in their writing (ex: highlight symbolism in yellow and alliteration in green). By doing so, they’ll be able to see what they’ve incorporated into their work.

5. Use in-class time for conferencing.

  • Ask a student to meet with you in a breakout room or on a private conference call. 
  • Have students share their doc or work with you beforehand. 
  • Before conferencing, ask students to think about what they’d like feedback on. If they can’t pinpoint anything, skim read and find ONE thing to help them with. 
  • Jot down what you discussed and then tell the student you’ll be back in 10 or 15 minutes to check on their progress in that area.

6. Have students actively reflect on feedback.

  • After a private conference with a student, have them summarize the feedback you gave them and reflect on how they used it. This will give you insight into how well students understand your comments. Feedback is not helpful if students don’t know how to use it to improve their work.
  • At the end of an assignment or project, have students reflect on how they can use the feedback they received in future work. Feedback should not simply focus on the particular piece of work, but should include strategies and processes students can use for the rest of their lives.

By using some of these strategies, you’ll be able to shorten the time you take to give feedback. But remember, self-care also means… don’t try all of them at once! Choose one or two and give them a try. If you have other strategies that work for you to lighten the feedback load, please share them with us in the comments section. Sharing is caring and we can all learn from each other!

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