How to Make a Delicious Feedback Sandwich for Online Students

Providing feedback to online students is a complex process.
There’s a bit of an art to it.
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 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 includes 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.

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.

And you top the feedback sandwich off with the final piece of ‘bread’: some encouraging concluding remarks.

In this article, we’ll focus on the ‘bread’ parts of the feedback sandwich.
These are the positive comments. They’re what holds the sandwich together.

But these comments have to be relevant, accurate and authentic.

Happily, there’s almost always something positive you can say about student work.
Here are some examples.

20 Positive Aspects of Student Work to Praise

1.  A strong overall structure

Is the work well organised 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 organised and logical approach.


feedback sandwich for methodical work


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.


feedback sandwich for reading


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 practice.

8.  An impressive Reference List

A Reference 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.


feedback sandwich for research


10.  Subtle or thoughtful points

Sometimes an assignment can be inconsistent, with weaker arguments punctuated by some points which express an unexpectedly subtle understanding of a concept.

These may be the highlights of the work.
They could indicate 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.
And an effective conclusion which summarises key points made and finishes strongly is also a potential positive element to comment on.


feedback sandwich for good writing


13.  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.

14.  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.

15.  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 recognised and encouraged.


feedback sandwich for a balanced argument (1)


16.  A research-based approach rather than personal opinion

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.  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.

18.  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 recognise, and work from that strength.


feedback sandwich for use of visuals


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 that 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.

But 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 Satisfying

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 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.


This article originally appeared on eLearning Industry.

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