Meaningful Feedback in Minutes

With advance preparation and planning, meaningful feedback does not need to take exorbitant amounts of time. Here’s a road map that not only reduces the time needed to provide meaningful feedback in minutes, it increases the student’s understanding that a critical component of any assignment is to:

  •  acknowledge evidence of progress and anticipate next steps of learning
  •  see evidence of misunderstandings, search information that corrects that misunderstanding, and anticipate the next steps of learning

Develop a growth mindset perspective to feedback

As you view student work, search for explicit evidence of learning and explicit evidence of what’s to be learned.

Know the student as learner

This is the advance preparation and planning mentioned above. Initially, it does takes time, but time spent in preparation is time gained in implementation.

Develop and maintain records of student progress and use these as the foundation of instructional planning. Student portfolios, curriculum referenced checklists, and brief, focused anecdotal notes provide information about each student’s “known”. Once you know the student’s “known”, you can plan what’s next. Here’s an example of a very simple form used to note student progress. This information provides a record of progress and the information needed to plan differentiated next steps instruction. screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-1-29-25-pm

Free yourself from the notion that more written comments are better.

Lengthy margin notes and corrections take too much of a teacher’s time (and they’re often ignored) so work with the students to create simple symbols that replace wordy feedback. NOTE:  check marks, happy faces, Xs, and sad faces are overused, so create new symbols that represent:

a) evidence of progress.  This symbol is followed with a bracket that includes the focus of the progress.

b)  evidence of an error or misunderstanding. This symbol is followed with a bracket that includes the topic to revisit.

Note: To begin, place each symbol in the margin adjacent to the evidence. Over time, place the symbol in the general area of evidence. (There’s an example below)

To correct or comment on every piece of evidence is a time consuming and often pointless exercise, so focus your feedback.

Before reviewing the student’s work, determine focus points for the feedback that include useful and applicable evidence of what’s known, what’s been taught, areas of misunderstanding, and what’s next.

Release the responsibility for revisions to the students

Feedback is only useful if it leads to action, so it’s up to the student to locate the evidence and to make any necessary changes. This means it’s essential to include time for student revisions as a component of the assignment.

Provide a feedback summary for the students in two sections:

a) What’s been accomplished: provide the student with a brief note that reflects the overall trend of accomplishments. “I noticed that you . . . ”

b) What’s the next step: provide a go-forward that previews the next step lesson. “The next step is to develop . . .

NOTE: Vague comments,  such as good work, try again, excellent, re-do, etc. do not add to a student’s awareness of progress nor the ability to review and revise their own papers. As a result, they are a waste of your time and the student’s time. Be specific.


As background to the example below, the teacher knew this student had a developing sense of organization. The focus of instruction was on the relationship between word choice and sentence fluency. It was an ongoing expectation that students monitor and self correct their use of conventions such as spelling, punctuation, etc.

The teacher’s summary comments may be shared orally or in writing. Once the feedback is given, the student is expected to review the writing, find and underline or highlight areas of accomplishment and find and improve the work noted for revision.

Here’s an example:

NOTE: In the example below, the students decided that a wavy line (coming along well) and a curlicue (not yet – have another look) were meaningful feedback symbols.

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Beyond the Apple provides everything a Professional Learning Community needs! Designed to follow Beyond the Apple's Tenets of Adult Education, our videos re-ignite the excitement of professional conversations among educators in the classroom, university, colleges and professional training. Our free teaching and learning resources provide a follow up with more information that is current, research based and practical.
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