It’s so hard to tell your kids they didn’t do well on a test or assignment. It’s one of the toughest things about teaching.
They put a lot of effort into it, they did their best, but their work missed the mark. Their answers were wrong. The homeschool learning goal wasn’t met.
And you’ve got to sit them down and tell them. Break their heart a little bit. Watch their happy, expectant face fall.
You get a ball in the pit of your stomach thinking about it!
Your first instinct is to sit them down and tell them it’s not their fault. It’s the test’s fault! The curriculum is faulty. The test wasn’t well-written, the directions were unclear.
But that’s not the case, is it?
Your kids’ best interests are your priority. That means giving them a strong homeschool education is your priority. If they do poorly on their schoolwork, they need to know.
They need to know what went wrong and learn how to get it right in the future.
How do you do it? How do you give your kids honest feedback without crushing their spirit?
The answer is effective feedback. It’s constructive but doesn’t avoid the negative.
It’s an important part of the learning process and your children’s homeschool education.
Benefits of Effective Feedback
Feedback is how you, the homeschool teacher, respond to your kids.
It’s what you tell them about how they’re doing in homeschool. It’s how they’re behaving, how their work study habits are, or how they’ve done on an assignment.
You give lots of feedback messages to your kids every day. Body language, tone of voice, choices of words -- these communicate feedback.
Effective feedback corrects kids when they’ve made mistakes. But it does so in a balanced way. Effective feedback helps your kids learn. It shows them the path to success and builds their confidence.
When kids receive consistent effective feedback, they treat failure as a learning opportunity. They roll with the punches, cope with obstacles, and don’t take it personally. They’re confident in what they can do and are open to taking on new challenges.
That’s the kind of person you want to put out into the world, isn’t it?
What Effective Feedback Looks Like
Below are examples of feedback messages I’ve sent to Essay Rockstar students. I believe its effective feedback, but if you disagree, tell me why in a comment at the end of this post!
“Your free draft followed your outline perfectly! Your content ideas are clearly expressed, and all the sentences flow smoothly from one to the next. That's great!
My only concern is that your content is a little brief. I'd love to see you find a way to add more to your three paragraphs before we move on to revisions. Can you think of some entertaining stories to share about specific times you haven't gotten enough sleep? Here's another idea. You could add a paragraph explaining what you do to avoid sleep deprivation, like a paragraph about good bedtime routines. What do you think?”
The feedback message above was in response to a student writing an expository essay on the effects of sleep deprivation. They were told why their work was good before I discussed revisions needed. Note the use of I-statements instead of You-statements.
“I read through your free draft, and it's excellent. You cover all the points on your outline and have strong thematic content that follows a logical progression. Your analysis of the features of the game is also clear. It's a shame that a video game that takes such care to have high quality graphics requires no skill to win. That must be frustrating for someone who knows how to play!”
In the feedback message above, a student is midway through their textual analysis essay. Here, the focus is confidence building. I affirm that my student followed lesson directions, and I take it further to praise them for their strong critical thinking skills. I also refer to detail from their essay to let them know that I really do read everything.
“I reviewed your draft, and I do need you to make a lot of revisions, but they're around a single problem. Right now, the problem is that your draft is a summary of the article. It's not a textual analysis yet. Please go back and review the purpose and description for this essay. Then, also review the samples of completed textual analysis essays at the bottom of that purpose and description module.
After that, go to your dropbox and open my upload there. I give you detailed feedback on how to make your current summary draft into a textual analysis draft. Take your time with this. Message me with any questions along the way. Then, when you're done, send in your revised draft, and we'll continue work from there.
This is the most difficult essay in the course, so please try not to get frustrated. It's a type of essay you'll be asked to write a lot in upper high school and college, so it's a good idea to take the time to learn how to do it well now.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.”
In the feedback message above, I don’t have anything positive to say about my student’s work for that particular assignment. So I try to maintain a positive tone, tell them exactly how to fix their essay, and offer encouragement.
Effective Feedback Is...
1. Constructive. Give your kids specific instructions on how to correct their mistakes. When they get something wrong, they need to know how to get it right.
2. Balanced. When you have to redirect or point out problems, offer an honest combination of strengths and weaknesses whenever you can. Start with the strengths. If you begin with weaknesses, they often don’t hear the strengths afterward.
3. Genuine, clear and specific. Be honest with your kids! Learning doesn’t occur with vague feedback. Your kids need a clear idea of where they are and where they need to go.
4. Qualitative. Letter grades, check plusses, and words like good or great are nice to receive, but they don’t say all that much. When your kids do well, make the praise meaningful by telling them why it’s good. After all, you have to tell them why they’ve made a mistake, don’t you?
Meaningful praise is an important confidence builder. Don’t skip it!
5. Given in a calm tone of voice. Soften the blow of a failure with a calm tone of voice and positive body language.
Effective Feedback Don’ts
Most important, never criticize the person. Focus only on the problematic schoolwork or actions.
Don’t compare your kid to their siblings or other kids. They’ll do plenty of that on their own. I’ve always found that creates more issues than it solves.
Check your emotions when you’re reviewing their work. If you’re feeling frustrated, wait until you’re calm to give your kids feedback. It can be hard to avoid frustration when your kids keep repeating the same mistakes, even after you’ve explained how to do it many times.
Beware of negative assumptions. This goes in hand with checking your emotions. It’s normal to assume that the kids are choosing not to cooperate with you. This happens a lot when you’re new to teaching. When you feel that coming on, take a break and hold off on giving feedback until later.
You’ve got this!