The Value of Teacher Feedback

Recently I attended a seminar as professional development in our district with assessment guru Ken O’Connor focusing on Assessment for Learning. The entire district is re-vamping it’s grading philosophy, and as the content facilitator I was included in on the conversation.  O’Connor  suggested that student learning will improve if teacher feedback is comments based, versus grading based. I can’t get this out of my head!

Let’s learn more: 

His research, along with the ideas of Dylan Wiliam, suggests that good assessment is all about encouraging students to reflect on their current performance.  The best way to do this is for the teacher to give qualitative feedback or comment-only marking.

Research showed that when students were given a grade only, it had 0% impact on their future performance as a reflective learner.

When students were given both a grade and a comment, the grade overshadowed the comment and had 0% impact on future performance as a reflective learner. 

But….when students were given COMMENTS ONLY,  future performance increased by 30%

What does this boil down to?  Basically students ignore the grades we give them!  They see them as definitive. However, when teachers give constructive feedback, comments for suggestion,  and positive reflections to students in written form, they are far more likely to take that information and use it constructively in the future to improve.   Think of our own professional development.  If the instructor never gave us any personal comments or suggestions on our work, and we only saw the final grade at the end, we wouldn’t necessarily feel as though we went through any kind of learning or transformative process. The same goes for our students.  This is why I give personal feedback to every student on every assignment in my online classes. It matters to students that much!

If this research holds true, it’s pretty powerful. SO…. What does that mean for art teachers like ourselves, who may see 500 plus students in one week?  I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out how I can make this best practice work, and have a few goals in mind for the school year that I’ll be sharing with you along the way.

Until then, Here are some articles to get you started if you are interested in learning more about comment only marking and the value of teacher and peer feedback:

Making Written Feedback Effective by Teaching Expertise

Comment Only Marking PDF

7 Ways to Respond to Student’s Creative Work by Arts Edge

Successful Class Art Critique by Marvin Bartel

And this- which totally defeats the purpose of authentic teacher feedback- a comment bank for teachers to go and copy and paste in comments to students – You can search by subject matter.  Admit it, we’ve all used a comment bank inserted into online grading programs, myself included.   Teachers Report Assistant Comment Bank by Ray’s Learning.  Thoughts?

Do you share student grades on each piece of artwork with the student?

Do you use comments as feedback to students?

How do you find time to give feedback to students in the art room setting? 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Starting in 1st grade, the kids rotate for each subject (so they have a Science specialist for science class, etc.. At our school, for their report card, each kid gets an entire typed sheet for each subject. The top half of the paper gives a description of everything the class learned (skills, concepts, etc.) during that semester. The bottom half is a personalized written assessment of the student’s progress. Each teacher has the freedom to set it up how ever they want. Some teachers include checklists/rubrics of skills, others write comments and others include grades. For art, we don’t give grades. I probably have about 140 students, so it’s less than what you teach. For each kid, I write about 4-6 sentences about their work habits, artistic skills, highlights of certain projects and what they could improve upon. The parents love the very descriptive reporting system we have. It is extremely time consuming, but our school usually (I say usually because it might change a bit this year) gives us a full day off to work on reports before they are due. I could see this system working for any school, however. The teacher could write their detailed description of the curriculum at the top, and then write (or copy and paste) a couple personalized comments for each kid. Grades are unnecessary in my opinion (at least in the elementary level for art).

    • Great resource, Marcia! I will definitely take away this model as an option for myself and I am sure others will do. Your school sounds very interesting and I look forward to learning more. Have you done any blog posts about this topic?

  • Brooks

    Thanks Erica!

    I remember that Marvin Bartel was the “end all, be all” for me when I first started teaching because blogging had not been invented yet!

    Canada also has some amazing assessement resources that I use occassionally.


  • Ahhh grades. To me a ridiculous and impossible hoop to jump through with 600 plus students and not nearly enough plan periods. But you know my situation and position on grades already. Feedback is of course important if you can do it without being a mini-me teacher, you know those teachers who try to make every kid their mini-me:) I can say, if you tell a student a list of criteria they will work harder. Just make sure the criteria is open ended enough. I secretly love when kids go off the criteria and do their own thing, I never penalize a free thinker even though I should because it doesn’t fulfill requirements. If they have reasoning behind what they’re doing I respect that. I just want to raise independent thinkers, if some students need criteria, rubrics whatever I will give that to them to inspire them to get started.

    It’s summer. . . I can let my grades grudge go for a few more months! Hope you are getting some sand in your shoes;)

  • Anonymous

    My kids never know what their art grade is until they get their report card. At my school we only grade effort, it’s a 1-5 scale and I find most kids don’t take it seriously at all. Last year, I started writing comments in all of my middle school sketchbooks after each assignment. They responded really well to the encouragement and the critiques. It got to the point, where they would rush in and grab their sketchbooks to see what I had written!
    Thank you for all of the great information! I look forward to your future posts!

    • Now that is a success! Props to you for sticking to writing in the sketchbooks. That sure take some discipline. I would like to start something like this in 5th grade this year!

  • Heidi

    PLEASE help!!! I need to track EVERY student coming through middle and high school art. How do I do this without spending hours on updating documents, and without losing my sanity. My admin tells me ” best practice” is to have a tracker for each student for the school career. Help!