Goal: 12 Resources for Giving Constructive Feedback

Part of the Goals 2010 Challenge Series, Goal 22 and the Cool Sites series

In the former school I taught at some of the students rallied together and complained to the principal about the previous teacher. The instructor thought it was because of the low grades they received in the class. When I was receiving the same group of students the following year I was really nervous. I was extremely shocked when the students thanked me. They said they really appreciated that I just didn’t give them their grades, but explained why I took points off. They stated this was the main reason they had complained about the last teacher, because the students were never told how to receive an A or B. They were just given a grade and expected to accept this grade with no questions asked.

This experience made me reflect on my grading practices. I wondered how I had learned to grade the way I do. See, not only do I take the time to make notes of the grade, I also write goals to achieve for the next assignment. Moreover, I provide checklists and rubrics with my expectations. If the students meet these expectations, then they receive the grade. I learned to do this from some of my favorite college instructors. They always provided the students with clear guidelines and commented on why points were taken off. However, I only remember a few instructors doing this. When completing my Masters I realized only a few instructors provided constructive feedback.

Why do only a few instructors provide constructive feedback?

I believe this is due to two main reasons. First, many instructors probably do not realize what constructive feedback looks like. I believe constructive feedback is:

  • specific- the student knows exactly what you thought was positive and what needed improvement.
  • private- make sure the other students do not know who made the worst grades.
  • immediate- provide the feedback as soon as possible when the assignment is still in the student’s mind.
  • helpful- We want students to strive to improve and to learn. If we are consistently pointing out the negative, then the student may give up or not try at all. Every student has something good about their work, even if it is the lowest performance. Perhaps, the student has never been given a shot at excelling. I have been given work I felt the student did not try at all. However, in my mind I try to remember that telling the student this or having a negative attitude with the student is definitely not going to accomplish anything. Instead, I rather encourage them to do their best in their next assignment and reassure them that I believe they have the ability to do some great work.
  • open to discussion- I allow my students to approach me about their grades. However, I preface this by saying they must give me specific reasons for wanting the grade change and present a good case. I also set aside meeting times for this take place.
  • goal-oriented- We should aim for our students to improve. We can do this by telling them what they should aim to improve and focus on the improvement instead of what they missed. Focusing on goals is motivational, while a focus on mistakes makes the student feel bad about themselves. This can be avoided by not marking everything in red.

Grading Resources

Second, many instructors probably do not have the time to give constructive feedback. I remember spending hours on grading. I understand the complaints. However, with a variety of free online tools, many instructors can cut down on their grading time in order to have more time to provide constructive feedback. My long-term goal is to begin using these resources more often and cut down on the amount of time I spend grading. For the short-term goal, I just want you to reflect on how these tools might help you provide constructive feedback.

  • Brain Honey– Free online curriculum mapping. I love this website for many reasons. This is more than a grade book and curriculum planner. Easily drag and drop your state standards to assignments. They’re already on the database. You can also find free lessons to match those state standards. Students have access to their grades. Additionally, the website highlights those students who did not achieve certain standards or are in danger of failing. This way you can let parents and students know as soon as possible.
  • Engrade– Free online grader/ teacher website. If your school does not have an online grading book, then check out this tool which allows teachers to enter assignments, attendance, and grades. Parents and students can check these reports with a special code. Many other advanced tools include the ability to print a student grade book and individual progress reports, email parents easily, and more!
  • Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Educators– Over 100 different resources and tools for traditional and alternative assessments. Tools include several rubric templates, rubric builders, electronic portfolio tools, and report card and progress report comment help for any grade level in any subject.
  • Rubrics for Assessment– 100s of rubrics for all grade levels, several projects, and web 2.0 projects. Use these as a template and get your students involved in creating the rubrics for more success.
  • Digitales Digital Media Scoring Guides– Simply check the type of digital project you need a rubric for. Then, click on each of the scoring guide’s keywords for detailed descriptors.
  • Spell Check Online– Fantastic free tool that requires no download or registration. Copy and paste text into the window and this service will highlight questionable spelling and grammar. An explanation is given as well as ways to fix the problem. This tool supports over 15 different languages including 3 variants of English.
  • Whitesmoke Writing Assistant– Free online spell checker for those with dyslexia, but useful for all students. Enter text, up to 1000 characters, and this tool marks incorrectly spelled words in red, and correctly spelled words used in the wrong context in blue. Right-click on the marked words for a list of possible replacements.
  • Viper– Free plagiarism checker for essays. Just run student essays through this software. Save more time by having your students scan their essays and send you a copy that shows they passed the plagiarism test. This only works for Windows.

Helpful articles about grading:


Test out one of these tools to see how you can use it decrease the amount of time you spend grading.

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This is goal 22 of this series! If you’d like to join the challenge, please read this post!

Don’t forget to leave a comment that you accomplished this goal using the hashtag #30Goals!

What do you think constructive feedback looks like?

Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell (@ShellTerrell) is an award winning digital innovator, an international speaker/consultant, and the author of Hacking Digital Learning with EdTech Missions, The 30 Goals Challenge for Teachers, and Learning to Go. She has trained teachers and taught English language learners in over 20 countries as an invited guest expert by organizations, like the US Embassy, UNESCO Bangkok, Cultura Inglesa of Brazil, the British Council in Tel Aviv, IATEFL Slovenia, HUPE Croatia, ISTEK Turkey, and Venezuela TESOL. She has been recognized by several organizations and publications as a leader in the movement of teacher driven professional development as the founder and organizer of various online conferences, Twitter chats, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Two of the projects she co-organized were shortlisted for ELTons, #ELTChat and the Virtual Round Table Language and Technology online conference. She was named Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women, awarded a Bammy Award as a founder of #Edchat, and named as one of the 10 Most Influential People in EdTech by Tech & Learning. Her greatest joy is being the mother of baby Savannah and Rosco the pug. Shelly has an Honors BA in English with a Minor in Communication and a specialization in Electronic Media from UTSA, a Masters in Curriculum Instruction ESL from the University of Phoenix, and a CELTA from CELT Athens. She regularly shares her tips for effective technology integration via Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/ShellyTerrell, and on her blog, TeacherRebootCamp.com, which has won several awards and recognitions as one of the top ESL, Edtech and Elearning blogs. Find over 400 of her slide presentations at https://www.slideshare.net/ShellTerrell/presentations


  1. Thank you, Shelly, I third that (even if that’s not English). I especially like Cathy Davidson’s motto: “Grading itself will be by contract.” and “No gaming the system. Clearcut. Student is responsible.” Rules to live by.

    • Anne,

      I really enjoyed Cathy Davidson’s article. I hope to be able to use her system. It seems this would save time and promote student ownership. It is completely different to trust the students with their grades, but I think I will learn a lot by doing this!

  2. Three words commonly get tangled up in these discussions: assessment, feedback and grading. It might be useful to differentiate between feedback and grading. Feedback may quite usefully be done by many players and as you suggest, have a formative quality. You indicate privacy as a feature, but peer feedback can be a useful tool. We have found that to get quality peer feedback you need a rubric tool that structures the dialog. Also, not all rubrics are equal — some are tools for sorting (grading) others can be read by the learner to indicate what their next learning target might be. See Wiggins http://www.edutopia.org/healthier-testing-made-easy

    Suggestion for one of your goals — learn to use Google Alerts. My Alert on Harvesting Gradebook brought me to your page.

  3. Shelly,
    I really like this goals series of yours, I especially like how the goals are specific and measurable. Anyway, one thing that has really helped me grade faster and provide more feedback this year is that I am finally using the Moodle installation that I have been tinkering with for two years. I like that when I have students submit a section of essays on Moodle I don’t have to carry a huge stack of papers home with me, they are all online.

  4. Hi Shelly,
    Loved this goal! Even though I’m no longer in the classroom with students which requires grading, I do do a few things that I believe need feedback. First, I teach 5th graders their computer lab lessons. We do many projects so it would be helpful to be able to give them some constructive feedback. I’ve used rubrics in the past, but feel like I need a refresher on best practices.

    I also teach the teachers and staff how to use technology in their classrooms. I teach 2 courses where I simply check that they did the work. Sometimes I provide a few comments such as, “Great job,” or “Here’s a resource to help you with ____.” However, it would be really helpful to have something more concrete and uniform for all students. This post has provided me with some great ideas for both!

    Thanks again,

  5. Thanks, Shelly, for shring your tips and those useful links for assessment.
    Assessment, grading and feedback really takes time but they’re essential in the learning-teaching process.

  6. I’ve used Engrade successfully for two years – it is a great program. Really keeps parents and students in the loop as far as grades and assignments. Their is an assignment calendar that allows you to upload documents/instructions. There is also a place to comment – one more way of giving feedback.

    One way of providing feedback that I want to try is conferencing. I teach social studies and students maintain an interactive notebook. I want to conference with them so they can get more face to face feedback in addition to the rubrics we use.

  7. I like your references to sites and companies as well as to blogs that have articles featuring different ways to look at grading. I have tried having students grade, but never with video feedback that would be so useful for parents as well as to document growth in metacognitive thinking throughout the year. I wrote about my endeavors in failing and fixing at http://bit.ly/90yaOe

    • Russell’s research is amazing and very useful. Thank you for sharing the resource. I think what you have written about failure and math quizzes is a quandary. For those with parents who are able to help, this can be a great achievement and experience for both. The problem comes when you have students who have no one to help them.

      • @Shelly Terrell, Agreed….your mention of the quandary. Screen record functions can help us to assess and give feedback on student work. But it can also help us to teach. I’ve recorded some solutions to challenging word problems from our Singapore Math curriculum. The kids and parents go home and watch the videos to help them figure out what is expected. It’s not perfect, but using technology to link home and school is my very favorite!

  8. Shelly:

    The company that I work for, Ontier, in Portland, OR, makes a product called Pixetell that offers teachers an excellent way in which to give very clear feedback to students. We already have teachers (and editors) making Pixetells to show their students (or writers) in a multimedia fashion what works, and doesn’t work, about a project, essay, test, story, etc. The combination of voice, screen recording and video comprises a very powerful way of communicating what goes into an evaluator’s analysis. You can find out more at http://www.pixetell.com; we have many examples of these kinds of messages on our web site.

  9. Shelly, this is such an excellent goal. My favorite teacher in high school was one who always offered constructive critisism and actually took the time to explain how we could make writing better. In fact, it was so valuable that many of her students (myself included) would bring her papers from other classes to seek her constructive criticism before we turned the assignment in. This is so valuable for students and gives grades meaning.

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