As you sit down to grade assessments, remember this: Not all feedback is created equal.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned about teaching came from Mr. Greg Duncan. What he taught me revolutionized how I helped students grow and improve (especially when it came to grammar/accuracy).  Here’s the main idea: A grade alone only shows a student were he is. Marking errors shows him what he doesn’t know.  It doesn’t help them improve. We have to find ways to give feedback that actually means something.

When it comes to giving feedback, these are a few things I found true as a learner AND as a teacher…

1.) Feedback must be individualized.

Find time to sit down with students either individually or in small groups and celebrate one thing they did really well and give them one thing they can work on. (If you’re not sure what sort of tips to give your students, start by identifying where they are. Our district used this proficiency rubric and I love it’s simplicity. If you can pinpoint a student’s proficiency level, you can encourage them to reach for indicators on the next sub-level.) It takes time, but it’s well worth it! Avoid the “one size fits all” feedback. The whole class does not need a recap of a specific grammar rule after an assessment just because a few struggled with it!


2.) Lessons are best learned AFTER mistakes are made.

It’s impossible to pre-teach everything a student needs to know to communicate. Have you ever drilled a word or concept only to find that only a handful actually remembered what you taught?  Many times the “ah-ha” moment came after they had a chance to see what they did. For example:

  • I’m sure I heard the word “embarazada” before studying abroad in Spain, but the meaning didn’t stick with me until I told a bunch of cute Spaniards I was “embarazada” in front of my host sister. I learned my lesson by the looks on the boys’ faces and the explanation and laughter from Maria Jose. I never made that mistake again!
  • I don’t explicitly teach gender agreement (camisa negra) because these errors usually don’t stop me from understanding the message and many students pick up on the pattern on their own over time. However, if I see a student make agreement mistakes multiple times in an assessment I will bring it up. I’ll show one example and let them try to find similar errors. It’s not about correcting mistakes in the past, but about helping them avoid it in the future.


3.) Keep it simple.


Language learners are going to make mistakes. If they don’t, then they are playing it safe. Sure, novice mid students can spit out an error free memorized phrase. However, as a student grows, he will begin to create original statements and play with words. This can get messy and that is a good thing! This is where feedback comes into play. Students don’t need to know everything all at once. Don’t explain a whole verb chart if they only need to know the first person. Keep your feedback simple and it’s more likely to stick with them!

So whether you give students feedback on their assessment before the break or after they come back, please, give them more than a letter or a number. Give them feedback that matters!