Making Feedback More Palatable For Online Learners
Providing feedback to online students is a complex process. The independent nature of online learning means that students can be more sensitive to having their work critiqued. While there are ways of increasing online student resilience, it’s also helpful to focus on your methods of giving feedback. The feedback sandwich is a classic approach to grading online student work. It’s a classic because it’s simple and it works .
The Basic Ingredients Of A Feedback Sandwich
The basic idea is to “sandwich” your constructive criticism of student work in between some valid praise and encouragement. So, you start with the first piece of feedback “bread” which begins with some positive comments about the assignment. Then, you move onto the “meat” of the feedback, which outlines the specifics of what ideally needs to improve, and why. And, you top the feedback sandwich off with the final piece of “bread”: some encouraging concluding remarks. The “meat” of the feedback—the parts of the student work that need to be developed further or corrected—of course also need to be palatable. They need to clearly explain which aspects of the assignment are problematic, and how to fix them. These comments will be tailored to the requirements of the assignment, and the nature of the student response.
In this article, I’d like to focus on the “bread” parts of the feedback sandwich. These positive comments are what hold the sandwich together. They have to be appealing and help to make the feedback easy to swallow. But the positive comments can’t be random or generic. To offer real encouragement, the positive comments must be sincere and directly relevant. Useful feedback is always clear, specific, and relevant. Happily, it’s quite easy to find aspects of student work that are genuinely worthy of praise. Here are 20 potential pieces of positive “bread” for your feedback sandwich.
The Bread Of The Feedback Sandwich: 20 Positive Aspects To Praise In Student Work
1. A Strong Overall Structure
Is the work well organized into clearly defined sections? Does it use subheadings?
2. At Least One Of The Assignment Questions Is Addressed Well
Give positive feedback on the part of the assignment instructions that has been covered. Comment on the potential for the other parts to be addressed in the same thorough way.
3. A Methodical Approach
A step-by-step methodology can be a good place to work from. It reflects an organized and logical approach.
4. Clearly Argued Discussions
Is part of the discussion eloquently argued? Highlight that part, and explain what it’s doing well, and why.
5. Careful Proofreading
Correct grammar, spelling, and a lack of typos are always great to see. That shows that care has gone into the work, and it has evolved from a first draft. And, time has been spent polishing the final draft.
6. Evidence Of Wide Research
If a student has done the required reading (and ideally more than the minimum), that’s worth commenting on. Perhaps they ran out of time to write up their argument fully. In the meantime, solid research is certainly praiseworthy.
7. Correct In-Text Citations
Taking the time to include citations to sources, and then getting the formatting and placement of those citations right, is a real skill. It reflects good attention to detail and an understanding of sound research practices.
8. An Impressive Reference List
A references list that includes more than the minimum required number of sources, and is carefully formatted always deserves praise. It means the student understands one of the fundamental requirements of academic study.
9. Immersion In The Course Materials
When the assignment reflects a clear understanding of the concepts covered in the course materials, then it’s likely that the student is engaging regularly with the required readings and activities. Even better, they’ve understood these core topics and can explain or apply them.
10. Subtle Or Thoughtful Points
Sometimes an assignment can be inconsistent, with weaker arguments punctuated by some points that express an unexpectedly subtle understanding of a concept. These may be the highlights of the work, so identify them as being strong points. They could indicate a real potential for higher achievement.
11. Accurate Use Of Terminology
Demonstrating an understanding of terminology is a good sign. It shows confidence with industry-specific terms and specific ideas.
12. Strong Introduction And/Or Conclusion
A clear introduction which states the intention of the assignment is a great starting point. An effective conclusion that summarises key points made and finishes strongly is also a potential positive to comment on.
13. A Balanced Approach That Shows Both Sides Of An Argument
Not everyone can look at a topic from multiple angles. This is a valuable skill that should be recognized and encouraged.
14. Observation Of The Word Limit
Controlling an argument so that it spans the required length is not easy. It reflects a disciplined approach, and the maturity to not try and cover too much in a limited space.
15. Good Use Of Examples To Illustrate Points
Providing examples to back key points reflects a level of comprehension that goes deeper than a surface understanding of the theory. Examples show how that theory can be applied in practice, which is really promising.
16. An Objective Approach Rather Than Reflection Of Personal Experience
If a student has moved away from talking about their personal understanding of a concept and is more focused on what the research says, that’s good practice.
17. Inclusion Of Useful Visual Elements, Such As Graphs Or Diagrams
Quality visual elements can add value and strengthen some of the weaknesses in a written argument. They can also reflect a learning style that’s strongly visual. You can perhaps help the student to recognize, and work from that strength.
18. Correct Use Of An Appendix For Supporting Material
When a student provides an appendix with further evidence or additional documentation, that shows they’ve tried to observe the word limit. And, they know how to remove distracting elements from their core discussion.
19. Early Or Timely Submission
Good time management skills are always worth noting and praising. In online learning, there’s a tendency for students to miss deadlines and assume that there’s more flexibility on due dates than there actually is. So. an early or on-time submission should be noted.
20. Engagement With The Topic
Sometimes, a student has clearly engaged with the topic in some depth but this has not quite translated to the finished product. However, if you can see clear signs of engagement, tell them that—and then explain how to bring that out in their written work.
A Feedback Sandwich Can Be Tasty
The sandwich approach to feedback can be really effective. But the “bread” parts of your feedback must be genuine and sincere. They must authentically represent the praiseworthy parts of the student’s work. And when they do, then there’s room for the “meat” in your feedback to contain some criticism. When you start and end on a positive note, you make your feedback easier to accept. And then the overall assessment experience is a satisfying one for both you and the student.
 Sandwich feedback: The empirical evidence of its effectiveness