We all know that effective feedback is important for student growth. There are many aspects to it, however, including what to say and not say, how to deliver it, and even how much feedback to give. It’s a skill we teachers hone year after year. Today, though, we’re going to focus one of the biggest roadblocks to giving effective feedback: time. And we’ll see that with a few tricks, we can speed up our feedback so that 1) our students learn better and 2) we don’t lose our minds.

Effective Feedback: Timing is everything

One thing most educators agree on is that effective feedback needs to happen quickly. In general, twenty-four to forty-eight hours is a good rule of thumb. When possible, though, students should get feedback even sooner than that.

“Wait,” you’re saying. “That’s all well and good, but if I add up all my daily assignments for every subject, it’s not possible to do this. I’ll turn into a correcting machine, and even then I won’t be able to get it it all. How is that effective feedback?” You’re right. It’s not possible to do it all. The amount of work we could potentially correct would reduce us to slap-happy, you-gotta-be-kidding-me laughter.

You can’t give effective feedback on everything. And you’d be bonkers to try to do so. So what’s an enthusiastic and realistic teacher to do?

The following seven ideas will let you view timely effective feedback with a new lens and will hopefully spur some of your own creativity in saving time!

Create an expert

Could your struggling student become an expert?

(Original photo by Diego PH)

Often, you can employ your own students to give effective feedback. And I don’t mean your all-star kids, either. Too often, the high achievers get stuck with the task of assistant teacher and many of them understandably resent that role. Instead, find a kid who is normally not seen as an expert.

Let’s say the kids are reviewing metaphors and similes and you notice that a lot of kids have forgotten the difference. Meet with someone who struggles with writing and go over the concept, writing down examples and mnemonic devices to help them remember. Then casually ask, “Since you seem to be getting this so well, would you mind if I sent some other kids your way for help?” They’ll probably be taken aback, because they’re not used to this role, but I guarantee you will see them squirm with delight. It’s a huge and often necessary confidence boost.

When another student needs help in that skill, you can simply say, “—– is our classroom expert on that. Go see him — he can review this with you.” Then that first student gets to teach the skill, which further cements his own learning. By the time he’s taught it four or five times, he’s got it down.

This doesn’t work one-hundred percent of the time. Sometimes, the student might forget a key piece of information, so it’s wise to keep your ears and eyes open. But in general, it’s a win-win-win. You save time, the students get the effective feedback they need, and your first student gets extra practice in the skill. Further, that student’s confidence is buoyed AND the other students get to see him in a leadership role.

Homework — clean and fast

Homework is a tricky monster. How much to give? What should the content be? There are many variables to consider, but for our purposes here — and assuming that your homework already serves your students’ needs and levels — a key question to ask yourself is “Will this be easy to correct?”  Make a habit of choosing easy-to-correct homework that has answer keys ready to go.

A couple of top-notch free sites are Worksheet Works and Common Core Sheets. Simply print the sheet and its corresponding answer key and correct homework in very short order. (And both allow you to focus in on a key skill you want your kids to practice. It’s also very easy to differentiate.)

Last year, my coteacher collected the homework as the kids walk into the classroom. They would go straight to her table, and she checked off everything as it came in. If time allows, you can quickly correct it or spotcheck it, so you know who has and hasn’t mastered the skill. Keep a list of who needs help and you can pull them together at RTI. (To learn more about spotchecking, go to this post and look under the heading, “You don’t have to correct everything.”)

Fast assessments

Complicated tests take more time to correct. Sometimes our districts mandate certain exams, leaving us no choice.  But often we will have some autonomy. In these latter cases, pick things that are easy (read, FAST) to correct. So, for example, the aforementioned homework sites are great for a quick formative assessment.

In our district, fourth grade goes over United States geography, including states and capitals. The maps I once used for testing were very cumbersome and took a long time to correct. So I designed these differentiated ones, and now I can quickly correct their tests and get them back to the kids by the end of the day. Little tweaks like this add up to a lot of saved time and energy.

Of course, one of the fastest ways of correcting is having the kids do it! These Multiplication Tests for Growth Mindset let kids correct their own tests. (Plus it includes pre- and post-tests, bar graphs so they can chart their progress, and mnemonic posters.) Prior to creating these, I spent a good hour every Friday correcting multiplication tests. No more!

Use games to buy you time for effective feedback

Often, I’ll have games for kids play when their initial work is done. As they play, I’ll correct their work and will call them up to give them the effective feedback they need, whether it’s “You seem to have these skill down. Do you have any questions?” or “Look at number 4 and see if you can spot the error.” For the latter, I’ll often tell the student, “If you figure it out, you can go ahead and put it in your mailbox to go home. If you’re not sure though, come see me and we’ll go over it together.” This response varies by student, of course, but it saves time and the kids get immediate feedback, which helps their noggins learn.

Some games I LOVE come from Games for Gains. Her games are relevant and sharpen skills; they’re definitely not fluffy time-fillers.

You can also use online games. This post delves into some great US Geography games. Free online math games can be found at Math Playground and free online games to fit any subject can be found at Sheppard Software.

Commercial Breaks (or Breaking News)

You know those days when you’re circling the room and you see that your students are having the same challenges? This is the ideal time to have a commercial break.

Commercial breaks are SHORT, just like television commercials. They shouldn’t go further than one minute. Set up your routines so that when you announce, “Drop everything! Commercial break!” your kids know to leave all their materials where they are and come to your meeting area immediately. To make it more fun, search YouTube for “Breaking News Music” and play that as a cue.

Then review the skill or idea they need to brush up on. You could even throw in a little flair in to make it seem like a commercial/breaking news.

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Boom. The kids go back to work having had a one-minute refresher lesson and now you won’t waste time correcting the same mistake. And because it’s so short and usually entertaining, they don’t grumble about coming over. In fact, they’ll be excited to see what you have up your sleeve!

Walk around with your pen

As students get to work on an assignment, such as grammar or math, for example, circle around the room and spot-correct their problems. This serves three purposes.

Pretty gelpens can making effective feedback way more fun.

Pretty gel pens can making effective feedback way more fun.

  1. It gives FAST effective feedback to the kids who are on track: “Yes. This is exactly how you should be doing this.”
  2. It gives FAST effective feedback to the kids who don’t have it yet (AND saves them time from doing a whole page incorrectly)
  3. It saves you time in the long run, with less correcting later. AND it give you effective feedback on how your lesson worked and what you might need to revisit later.

So what does this look like? Let’s say you have four students at the red table. The first one has done problems 1-3. You correct those. The second student has done only one problem. You correct that. The third has done 8 problems — correct those. And so on.

Or you might just choose five key problems on one page to correct and let the rest slide. So instead of correcting 1-20, you spot-check 1, 5, 7, 10, and 15.

Stickers

Oh what won’t kids do for stickers? Scratch-n-sniff ones, particularly. (There should be a Black Market for those things.)

There are multiple ways of using these:

  • Give each student a sticker and ask them to put it next to the problem they want you to correct as you do your walk-around.
  • Tell kids that if they remembered to label an answer with units, you’ll put a sticker next to that problem.
  • Once a page or section is complete and correct, students will receive a sticker. (It’s important to do this so that it’s achievable for everyone. In other words, it’s okay if they make mistakes — they simply have to correct them before they get a sticker.)
  • Instruct students to place the sticker on their page and write the word “odd” or “even” next to it. If they write “odd” you’ll only correct the odd answers, for example.

Your turn

Again, the name of the game is FAST. The whole goal of feedback is to help their brains learn. You won’t be able to do it all, so put some thought into what you want to assess in one day. And ask yourself, “How can I give this effective feedback quickly?” 

Now it’s your turn! In the comments below, tell us: Which time-saving method of effective feedback will you try? Or. What are some strategies for effective feedback that save you time in your classroom?

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