Most of the time we think of teaching as something that only happens within classroom walls. But in fact, most of us do our teaching in a variety of environments now. Meeting with students in our offices, exchanging emails about their work, interacting online through a learning management system or course blog — all of that is teaching. Writing comments in the margins of a student’s paper is a form of teaching, too, one with great potential to spark learning. Far too often, though, that last kind of teaching can feel like a one-way conversation. Research seems to suggest that the feedback we provide on student work has minimal effect on their future work. It’s worth asking: Are our students even reading the comments we leave on their papers? And if they do read them, do they think about them long enough and deeply enough to actually learn from them? Many instructors I know worry that their students look at returned work just long enough to find out their grades, and then shove the papers into their bags to be forgotten forever. Consequently, many of us write our comments with a grade-centered approach in mind: Our feedback is there to justify the grade in case the student complains. It’s a paper trail, rather than a constructive document aimed at helping students improve. Some have blamed that state of affairs on our tendency to correct — to focus our efforts retrospectively, on what students did wrong, rather than on how they might improve. Instead, we should recast our feedback as “feedforward,” and focus on making suggestions for future practice. That is sound advice. But perhaps as important as what we’re writing on student work is when we’re writing it.
Read Getting Them To Read Our Comments