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Assessment: Feedback


One of the best ways to improve a student’s learning experience is for instructors to provide quality and timely feedback. One of the best ways to improve an instructor’s teaching is to gather quality and timely feedback from students and colleagues. Providing and collecting feedback can be a time-consuming process, but feedback is essential to the learning process and, when done well, can actually save you time and grief.

In this guide, we share some advice on providing effective feedback to your students, collecting meaningful feedback for yourself and facilitating peer feedback/review exercises. In general, feedback comes in two main types:

  • Formative feedback is provided to students during the learning experience. Students then use that feedback to improve their performance in subsequent activities or assessments. Formative feedback is often provided without an associated grade, such as comments on a draft of an essay, for example, or in a low-stakes assessment like the first entry in a reflective journal.
  • Summative feedback is provided to students after the learning experience. Summative feedback tells students how they did, but does not usually provide a subsequent opportunity to make use of that feedback within the context of the course. The grade on a final exam or comments on a final research project are common examples of summative feedback.

These categories also apply to the feedback collected on an instructor’s teaching. For example, you might collect “fast, early feedback” from students early in the course on things like the pace of the course, clarity of explanations, etc. This formative feedback allows you to tailor subsequent teaching to the needs of the students in the current offering of the course. A course evaluation survey, conducted at the end of the semester, is summative feedback that can be used to improve future offerings of the course, but has no impact on current students.

If you would like more examples of feedback strategies, peer feedback exercises, or to consult on employing feedback in your course, contact to talk to an education developer or instructional designer.

Giving feedback to students

“Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement, but this impact can be either positive or negative.” 

- Hattie & Timperley, 2007

Hattie and Timperley provide both an endorsement of feedback and a warning: when not done well, feedback can actually have a detrimental effect on student learning. So, how do we provide feedback in a way that enhances learning?

Effective feedback is…

  • Timely – Provide feedback soon enough so that the learning experience is fresh in the student’s mind and with enough time that a student can make use of your feedback in subsequent activities or assignments.
  • Specific – Use specific language, details and examples to help students identify what they did well, what they need to improve, and next steps to take.
  • Descriptive – Use descriptive, non-judgemental language to help learners focus on the details of their performance in relation to the learning outcomes or evaluation criteria rather than being fixated on labels like good or bad.
  • Balanced – Provide examples of what students did well, so that they can build on these strengths, in addition to suggestions for how to improve in areas where they didn’t do as well.
  • Manageable – Ensure that your feedback won’t overwhelm students. Give them enough information to know how to improve without necessarily highlighting every single flaw in their performance.
  • Practical – Direct feedback toward behaviours that students can change.
  • Solicited – Sharing feedback in response to questions from students can make for a powerful learning moment.
  • Discussed – Discuss your feedback with students to ensure that they understand what you’re trying to tell them.

Tips and traps:

  • Avoid the trap of only focusing on justifying an assigned grade. Ask yourself: “What does this learner need from me at this time?”
  • To help distinguish between summative and formative feedback, consider dividing feedback into “this time… (for summative), next time… (for formative)”.
  • Consider providing in-person feedback, such as individual and small group meetings. Involve students in the process by asking “What parts are you satisfied with? Why? What do you think you need help with?"
  • Consider comments without grades for drafts and formative assessments; or consider pass/fail grading.
  • Consider grades with minimal comments for summative assessments unless the student asks for more, and save more detailed comments for teachable moments during formative activities.
  • Use formative peer feedback on drafts or components of assignments.


Ambrose, A., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M., & Mayer, R. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Angelo, T. & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass.

Darby, F., & Lang, J. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. Jossey-Bass. See especially Chapter 5: Giving Feedback.

Earl, L. (2003). Assessment as learning: Using classroom assessment to maximise student learning. Corwin Press.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

Shute, V. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153–189.

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass.

Walvoord, B., & Anderson, V. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. (2012). 7 keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10–16.

Receiving feedback from students

Effective teachers continually reflect on their practice. Each day brings an opportunity to learn and grow from our experiences. We can get feedback on what's working or not working through our own self-reflection, inviting peer feedback, and receiving feedback from students. When we invite feedback from students and then demonstrate we are listening to them by making modifications to our teaching, we are modelling how to give and receive feedback in order to improve learning. 

Inviting student feedback

Periodically gather feedback from students about their experience in the class. This can be done anonymously or not, through a wide range of techniques. Here are just a few examples of formative feedback questions and activities you can use with your students:

  • Stop-start-continue (e.g., make a note of one thing you would like me to stop doing, one thing you’d like me to start doing, and one thing you’d like to me to continue doing). 
  • Two stars and a wish (e.g., jot down two things that are working well for you in the course and one suggestion for a change). 
  • "The best part of today's class was ___ because ___.  If I could change one thing about today's class I would ___ because ___."
  • What did the instructor do to help you learn? What could the instructor do to help you learn? What could I have done to help myself learn?
  • What was the muddiest point in today's class?

You can use simple sticky notes to collect feedback in class or use the Survey tool into D2L to collect and analyze the results. For more ideas on quick and easy ways to gather feedback, see Angelo & Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques (1993).

Peer feedback

Peer feedback (or peer review) is a common practice among scholars and can also be applied in a student learning environment. Peer feedback is frequently used in writing-intensive disciplines, but can be used in almost any course where students are able to observe and comment on each other’s performance. Most students are not trained to provide effective feedback, which means you must guide them through the process for the feedback to be useful.

Benefits of peer feedback

Peer feedback has several key benefits. It involves students more directly in the assessment process, which means they gain tools for reflecting on their own work. And, while it does not replace the role of instructor feedback, effectively facilitated peer feedback can ease the instructor workload by providing valuable formative feedback on work in progress.

Peer feedback process

The following steps can be used to facilitate a peer feedback exercise in your course.

  1. Invite students to be involved in setting the evaluation criteria or creating a grading rubric for an assignment. Ask questions like: “What would an ‘A’ look like on this assignment?” When students fully understand the evaluation criteria, they will be better prepared to provide appropriate feedback to their peers.
  2. Work through an example submission together. Ask students to compare the example to the evaluation criteria or rubric you built together. What are the strengths of the submission? What is missing or underwhelming? Then, share and discuss with students your assessment of the submission. What descriptive comments did you use? How would you make suggestions for improvement?
  3. Provide a structured environment for the peer feedback process. For example, provide guiding questions or ask students to use the official rubric to assess their peers’ work. Guiding questions or prompts such as: “Try to restate the author’s thesis in your own words,” or “What did you most appreciate about the author’s work?” can help to generate specific, descriptive feedback rather than bland statements like “It was good,” or “I liked it.”

Featured Resources

NEW! Provide video feedback quickly and easily with Kaltura Express Capture. See the video below for a demonstration or check out our eLearning tutorial here.

Angelo, T. & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd edition). Jossey-Bass. LINK

Darby, F., & Lang, J. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. Jossey-Bass. See especially chapter 5: Giving Feedback. LINK