VIU Campus

Giving Feedback

Providing students with formative feedback throughout the semester is one of the most crucial elements of successful learning. To better understand what makes feedback effective, we begin by defining the difference between Summative Assessment and Formative Assessment?

Let’s start with Summative assessment:

  • Comes in the form of an assignment, exam, or activity that counts towards the student’s final grade
  • Although students receive comments and feedback on such assignments, their grade is final. So the feedback they receive at this time aims to help them focus on future assessments. NOT on the current assessment

Whereas Formative assessment

  • Comes in the form of assignments, case-studies, mock exams, learning activities that DO NOT count towards final grades
  • Comments and feedback attached to formative assessment activities are designed to help students grow and learn throughout this course

Formative assessment, also known as assessment as learning, provides learners with opportunities to assess their own learning and to better understand how learning works. Formative assessment is growth orientated - it invites students to take risks, try out new approaches, and to focus on learning rather than final grades.

From a growth mindset perspective, formative assessment is all about providing frequent opportunities for instructors to give feedback to students, specific to their learning. At the same time, formative feedback provides instructors with feedback on their teaching practices, allowing them to adjust and adapt the learning experience for students based on these findings: both students and instructors stand to gain from these practices. Collectively, formative assessment and feedback creates a culture that aims for continuous improvement on behalf of the student and the instructor.

We like to think about formative assessment and feedback as a cyclical process where ongoing Informal gathering of data informs both the learner and the instructor.  The fact that no grades are attached means the focus can be placed on growth and learning, as opposed to the final grade.

Assessment as Learning

When students engage in formative assessments and activities, their learning potential is dependent on the effectiveness of the feedback that is given to them by their instructor.

Effective student feedback should aim to support and inspire students by letting them know specifically where they are at, where they are heading, and how they can get there. In other words, effective feedback should make the student feel  supported and inspired!

Regular feedback is an essential element of assessment as learning and needs to be implemented early and consistently throughout a course. This allows students to build trust by knowing how well they are doing, and what they need to do to improve. These practices also support students in preparing for their next assessment task.

Instructors are always encouraged to include more formative assessment activities in their classes.  Such assessment activities should not take a long time to conduct and should provide fairly instant feedback for both students and instructors.  These activities should not be graded or awarded marks, but rather should become part of the ongoing assessment you conduct for informing students about their learning and for them to inform you about your teaching. 

Note: you may want to remind students that such activities are not for marks, but to let them know where they are at in their current learning journey. 

Prior Knowledge Survey

This is a short survey you give students at the beginning of your course or before any new unit or topic. It alerts students to topics the course will cover and gives them a chance to share what they already know. 

  • Focus questions on the level of knowledge in the course (e.g., basic facts, assumptions, understandings, misconceptions)
  • Ask about a dozen questions to gauge background in key concepts
  • Phrase questions as multiple choice or true/false questions for easy feedback - possibly include a few open-ended questions
  • Alternative: Set up an online survey in your learning management system or through a free survey website – it is a fast and easy collection of data
  • Share results as soon as you can -  students will appreciate knowing the results of their input 

Self-Assessment Quiz

This is a short quiz you create on previously taught content.

 It becomes an informal report about student progress. 

  • Set aside five minutes in class for students to complete
  • Create a few questions for students. Include a rating scale for each question, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. Students rate how they are feeling about course content, about their understanding on certain topics and how comfortable they feel going into a mid-term or exam.
  • Students are creating their own report card as they are really thinking about their own learning and where they need to improve
  • Ask students to submit online, or put their names on the self-assessment quiz and hand in for review if it is paper-based
  • Repeat at regular intervals throughout the course and review during one-to-one feedback sessions

Question and Answer – Discussion

When you engage students in a good discussion framed with well-developed questions, you and your students gain a lot of information about what is being learned and where there is a need for further explanation. 

  • Post questions for students to consider (preferably before class so they can prepare) and display digitally or otherwise during the class discussion 
  • The small group method is preferable for getting greater participation and makes more students feel comfortable enough to engage more – arrange into groups to discuss questions
  • For large classes, have students work in smaller groups: appoint a reporter who will summarize the discussion to share with class, either online or in-person 

Operation Outline

This is a group activity where students work together to fill in the blanks found in an outline/handout you have created that focuses on key topics. It helps in determining how well students are understanding the course and gives students an idea of how to organize a study guide on key concepts.

  • Organize students in groups of 4-5
  • Allocate about ten minutes to complete this task 
  • Post an incomplete outline related to a recent topic. This can be done using Zoom whiteboard, Jamboard, or other digital interactive and editable documents.
  • The incomplete outline might include subtitles, key concepts, important facts, and principles 
  • There has to be important content missing and the outline has to look incomplete
  • The group’s task is to scour their notes, text book, on online searches to fill in the outline – they should be able to use a variety of resources to complete the task
  • Completed digital documents can be shared out amongst the full class for a group review. Or a discussion can be facilitated so that students may revisit their answers. The bonus of digital is that the instructor can see students revising their answers as the class progresses. 

I Am In The Fog About…

This activity gives students an opportunity to express where they are confused, unsure, or feel they need help with concepts and components of the course. Students share with you where ‘things are foggy’ Near the end of class, launch an interactive digital whiteboard and ask students to jot down anything they are ‘in the fog about’ or need additional help. Alternatively, create a short online survey to have students complete either during or after class. Note: students with English as an additional language (EAL) may require further explanation, or use of a different metaphor.

  • The responses are open-ended for obtaining any type of response
  • By making activity anonymous, students will feel more comfortable to share 
  • Collect responses and quickly sort through them to identify key ideas
  • This activity will help you in reframing future classes and re-emphasizing important concepts

Concept Map

Concept maps are wonderful ways for students to organize their understanding of a topic in a visual way. Students are also able to share their conceptual learning. Either on chart paper or in one of the many free concept mapping web sites, students will enjoy working with their peers and being creative with the map. 

  • Share some examples of a concept map from a variety of digital tools
  • Arrange students into small groups of 4-5 
  • Students depict the major themes and ideas of the course in an organization scheme that they create together
  • A representative from each group shares the concept map with the class 
  • Consider asking students to create a rough draft on their own concept map first - this might help the groups progress faster and with more discussion 
  • Sharing a digital whiteboard via Zoom in real-time, or uploading the concept maps to the VIUlearn course site is a great way to share with your class 

 Charting It Up

Having students complete a chart is an excellent way to get feedback on what they are learning about conceptual relationships. A chart activity also provides students with another way to look at the course and use it as a study guide. 

  • Arrange class into small groups
  • Each group creates a chart which includes only the titles and subtitles for rows and columns
  • The chart might be a pro/con chart for a topic, a chronological chart to outline key components according to a timeline, a comparison chart for looking at similarities and differences between concepts etc.
  •  Give groups a short amount of time to reference their notes and perform internet searches to complete the chart
  • Charts can be posted online or in the virtual classroom. Students can access each chart. Or ask one student from each group to summarize their group’s chart and present to the class


A ticket out the door is simply a post-it note, digital or otherwise, on which students respond to questions and hand in before they leave class. The post-its are anonymous and provide instructors with a quick overview of what students are learning and where there are gaps.

  • Near the end of class, ask students to sign-in to a digital whiteboard where they can remain anonymous, or hand out in-class post-it notes. 
  • Post two to three questions about the class you have just conducted. This can be done via the Chat feature in Zoom, or using the physical whiteboard in class. Note: the advantage of the digital whiteboard is it permits students to see all responses
  • You could ask both a lower thinking question that simply asks them to show they were listening and ask a higher thinking question that would require a few sentences to explain based on what was taught 
  • You want them to spend about 2- 5 minutes answering a couple of short questions 

 Effective feedback: 10 Tips to Doing It Right

There is much available research on successful strategies for designing and implementing feedback, yet we need to be cautious; our classes are full of diverse learners and so we know a one-size fits all approach is not suitable.

Nevertheless, we have found these 10 Tips provide a framework for effective feedback practices that can be adapted to most situations

  1. Informal formative feedback: takes place during class using polls, jamboards, concept maps, group quizzes, individual reading assessments (iRats), team reading assessments (tRats) etc. Embed these activities from the start of course to create a transparent learning environment. 

  2. Process: Focus on the process, not the outcome. Students  may benefit from activities that build metacognition and reflection on learning, such as experiential learning activities that provide learners with the opportunity to reflect on the learning process, as opposed to the end result. Consider how you can embed metacognitive practices for your students into your classroom activities.

  3. Self-regulation: Creating a learning environment that fosters student engagement and participation prepares students to take responsibility for their own learning. You may need to guide students in developing this mindset by asking open-ended questions such as: what supports do you need? How can I better support you? What can you do to enhance your learning experience?

  4. Formal formative feedback: is dependent on timing. Ideally, feedback sessions should take place soon after an assignment has been submitted. It should also allow time for the student to make any necessary adjustments based on the feedback that is given before resubmitting.

  5. Building Trust: The focus of formative feedback should be in all aspects educative. First, students need to hear what they are doing right before they are ready to focus on areas for improvement. Once students trust that your focus for these sessions is to support their learning journey, rather than for punitive purposes, they will be more likely to fully participate.

  6. Proactive: Structure your conversation positively so students see feedback as opportunities for growth and learning. The culture of positivity promotes a proactive attitude on the part of the student, allowing them to see feedback as an essential element of learning. If students become defensive when receiving feedback, this may be a sign to revisit the delivery of your feedback sessions. 

  7. Rubrics: Students should have access to the criteria for an assignment in order to support them in completing the assignment in a successful way. Referencing a rubric during a feedback session is helpful to both the student and the instructor.  As Rubrics  provide guidance to students on what is expected of them in an assignment, it is important to provide rubrics to students BEFORE they start an assignment.

  8. Choices: Offer students choices when setting up feedback sessions. Be willing to meet in a variety of modalities, for example: in-person, via a virtual meeting room, text-based meeting using an interactive whiteboard, or a phone conversation. You may want to encourage students to record sessions or take notes.

  9. Be genuine: Avoid using vague terms such as ‘great job’ or ‘nice work’ when providing feedback. These terms can be confusing for students because they lack criteria. Be specific. Name what is good and the elements that make it good. Use statements such as “I noticed” and “this is evidence of”. Specific statements allow students to see exactly what it is you are looking for by making learning transparent.

  10. Dialogue: Providing effective feedback is a two-way conversation.  Encourage students to be curious and to ask questions, so that learning is seen as a collaboration between you and the student. Create a culture where students learn to take advantage of feedback sessions and see them as opportunities for a one-on-one session with you. By setting aside time for students to ask questions, you encourage students to take ownership of their feedback sessions and their learning.

Book a consultation with a CIEL Specialist

CIEL specialists are available for a consultation to discuss giving effective feedback and ways to integrate any of the above approaches (and others!) into the classroom.  To book a consultation, contact