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How to Provide Mastery-Oriented Feedback (With Examples)

Tom Thibodeau
Tom Thibodeau
January 9, 2023

Let’s get down to the brass tacks of mastery-oriented feedback.  What does it mean in practice?

Assignment example with non-mastery oriented feedbackAll of us have our own routine for assessing student work…but I bet we are all pretty similar in our execution of the process.  When we can (or must), we sit down with a stack or digital pile of assessments and start to assess, one student at a time, until the pile is done. If all we do is mark the answers as correct (with a big “C” or “√”) or incorrect (with a big “X”) and tally up a grade, the process can be pretty boring and unfulfilling to both you and your students.  In this scenario, what is returned to students is almost academically useless as it has reinforced a fixed mindset that the grade is the only thing that is important. We are done with this assignment and moving on to the next one.

However, if we rethink our process, add mastery-oriented feedback (MOF), and have our students reflect on and revise their work with the feedback, we can help our students learn from the assignment, providing more satisfaction for you in the process.  Ok.  I know, an elephant has just entered the room, and we need to discuss it.  You are already thinking about how you can possibly find any extra time to do anything more. So, let’s talk about that before we talk about the MOF. Yes, this will take extra time to get your head around this, and yes, it will increase the time it takes to assess student work. But, it will pay you back when you see that the students are learning more and you start to move through your lessons a little faster because of the stronger learning foundation that you have created. So, while you are learning this new process, feel free to reduce the number of assignments you actually assess.  Go over the assignments in class with the students.  Have the students self-assess and self-reflect more as you go over the answers.  Give MOF verbally and support students in the process of achieving the goals of the lesson.  Do more formative assessments.  In short, reduce the quantity so that you can increase the quality of your feedback.

Now, let’s talk about the process of MOF. 

Set Up For Success

MOF is much easier to provide when you design the assessment or assignment with goals and clear outcomes that match the lesson! It will give you a foundation and a standard to evaluate. It helps to make the process more objective instead of subjective as well. 

MOF starts way before you review student work.  It starts at the beginning of your lesson planning when you develop the goals and objectives of your lesson. These goals and objectives should be aligned with the state standards and/or the curriculum.  They also need to be S.M.A.R.T. and be written in user-friendly language that meets the needs of your students.  Setting up S.M.A.R.T. goals sets goals and objectives that your student can understand and that you can use to evaluate the student's work.  It removes the guesswork.  It also gives you the ability to decide upon the options and choices that you can offer that align with your firm goals.  I would suggest that you choose assessments that do not require only one answer or, if that is unavoidable, that you ask students for their reasons for choosing their answer.

MOF continues during the delivery of the lesson as you provide explicit instruction and reinforce the goals and objectives in multiple ways and give your students opportunities to practice the topics, self-reflect on their progress, self-assess their work and try again if they haven’t achieved the goals and objectives or move on to the next step if they have.  Providing options and choices to your students will help them overcome any barriers that they may encounter along the way. 

Kicking Off the Assessment

When the students are ready (notice that I didn’t say when you are!), you can provide them with more formalized assessments.  Encourage students to review the assignment/quiz/exam/project and to ask you any questions about things they don’t understand before they start. Then let them do the work.  When they are done, collect the work and if possible, review the assignment with the students in a side-by-side assessment to ensure everything is complete. This is also an incredible opportunity to ask students to reflect on how they did. Next, within a day or two (the quicker, the better), assess student work.  Before you begin this process, review the goals and objectives one more time and then do a quick review of all the submitted work to see if there were any big misconceptions, misunderstandings, or confusion and get your “arms” around the task.  Be sure to note any delivery issues that arise so that you can revise the assignment for the next time.

Review and Feedback

As you assess each student submission:

  •  If students meet or exceed standards, give positive reinforcement. For example,  “I like how you figured this out and came up with your own process to solve the problem,” “I like how you connected the concepts….” Ask questions like “how would you do this if….”? And "what was your process for learning how to do this?"  It is ok if you want to add global comments to the top of the assignment that congratulates the student on a “job well done” or “keep up the good work,” but avoid comments like “you are so smart” or “you got 98 out of 100!”.
  • If students are not yet meeting standards, tell them where their work is incorrect or needs improvement and encourage the student to keep trying by reviewing a particular resource that you used in the lesson or offer them a strategy for looking at the question or solving the problem.  Be specific. Use this as a “teaching moment” to help the student learn the concept.  Then, give them an opportunity to revise before you post a grade.  Help them succeed.

You don’t have to do all this by writing comments on the page. You could do this one-on-one with each student, or you could record an audio or video (screencast) that reviews the assignment and then send it to the student. Alternatively, you could do a full class review and then meet with small groups of students in a station rotation.  This will give you time to “encourage perseverance, focus on the development of efficacy and self-awareness” (CAST) and reinforce the objectives and goals of the lesson so that students will know what they achieved or what they need to continue to work on.  This would also be a good time to do a “my favorite wrong answer” to highlight that we all make mistakes and that making mistakes is part of the learning process to destigmatize any wrong answers.

Examples of Mastery-Oriented Feedback

The following examples are from a variety of subjects in a few grades.  We have added MOF to each example. All samples have been made anonymous and are used with permission.  Each sample is linked to a video review of the feedback and a Padlet.  Choose whichever samples interest you.

4th Grade Writing Sample (Special Education):   Padlet | Video 

4th Grade End of Unit Self-Assessment: Padlet | Video 

5th Grade Mathematics:  Padlet | Video 

5th Grade Science:  Padlet | Video

HS English:   Padlet | Video


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