Dealing with Mistakes and Providing Feedback

Students are in school to learn. We learn most efficiently when we make mistakes. Understanding how students make mistakes and the various types of mistakes that can happen can help teachers to provide feedback.

Julian Edge describes three types of mistakes

  • Slips-miscalculations that students make that they can fix themselves
  • Errors-Mistakes students cannot fix on their own but require assistance
  • Attempts-A student tries but does not yet know how to do it

It is the last two as a teacher that we are most concern. Helping students with errors and providing assistance with attempts is critical to the development of student learning.

Assessing Students

Students need to know at least two things whenever they are given feedback

  1. What they did well (positive feedback)
  2. What they need to do in order to improve (constructive feedback)

Positive feedback provides students with an understanding of what they have mastered. Whatever they did correctly are things they do not need to worry about for now. Knowing this helps students to focus on their growth areas.

Constructive feedback indicates to students what they need to work. It is not enough to tell students what is wrong. A teacher should also provide suggests on how to deal with the mistakes. The suggestions for improvement become the standard by which the student is judged in the future.

For example, if a student is writing an essay and is struggling with passive voice the teacher indicates what the problem is. After this, the teacher provides suggestions or even examples of switching from passive to active voice. Whenever the essay is submitted again the teacher looks for improvement in this particular area of the assignment.

Ways of Giving Feedback

Below are some ways to provide feedback to students

  • Comments-A common method. The teacher writes on the assignment the positive and constructive feedback. This can be used in almost any situation but can be very time-consuming.
  • Grades-This approach is most useful for a summative assessment or when students are submitting something for the final time. The grade indicates the level of mastery that the student has achieved.
  • Self-evaluation-Students judge themselves. This is best done through providing them with a rubric so that they evaluate their performance. Very useful for projects and saves the teacher a great deal of time
  • Peer-evaluation-Same as above except peers evaluate the student instead of himself or herself.

Mistakes are what students do. It is the teacher’s responsibility to turn mistakes into learning opportunities. This can happen through careful feedback the encourages growth and not discouragement.

8 thoughts on “Dealing with Mistakes and Providing Feedback

    1. SpokenLanguageFun

      I thrive on the challenge of analyzing errors and responding in a way to maximize learning and avoid frustrating the student. A frustrated student will find it difficult to learn.

      Your post has launched me upon a reflection: “It’s My Job to Help You Learn”

      Thank you.

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  4. Nina

    Hi Darrin,
    I liked your very clear presentation of feedback and empahsizing students’ learning. However, I disagree with your definition of “constructive feedback” because it reads more like providing advice to students. Yes, we can get to the correct answers that way, and students’ will be able to fix their mistakes, but it doesn’t contribute to students’ deeper learning. I blogged about feedback recently:

    Feedback is not assessment, evaluation, advice, praise, or labeling student’s work (with a grade, or comment). It would be very nice and interesting to discuss our differing views of feedback!



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