Feedback on work or performance can move students to improve and excel. Effective feedback to students has three primary qualities. It must be timely, specific and credible. Praise for that which is not worthy will destroy its value. Praise for everything makes it impossible for students to know the quality of their work. Praise for effort should not be confused with praise for results.
Feedback is about the work, not the student. According to research, it should force the student to engage cognitively in the work. (Black and Wiliam; Thompson) The questions posed by the teacher should point them to missing or erroneous information and provide a clue (not a prescription) for how to proceed to make the work better. Pointing out what specifically students did well also serves as motivation to keep going. The task remains doable. For example, saying, “You used words that help me see precisely what is happening” or “Your calculations seem to be correct, but I can’t tell what your answer means. Please label what you have found out. What is your answer to the question?” can help students grow. “Great work!” or “keep trying” do not provide clues about what is done well or needs improvement.
Vocabulary development is essential for all subjects. Students should be engaged, not just in the memorization of definitions but in thinking about what words mean in specific subjects or circumstances and what they do not mean. One model for approaching vocabulary in content areas is to develop the concepts behind the words first, and introduce the words when students understand.
Available word walls, posting words or phrases on the wall, for frequent brief review or reference is a strategy for reinforcing vocabulary. A written model for students to keep and study from is the Frayer model. On a paper folded into four quadrants, students write the important word or phrase in the center. They write their own definition in the upper left, characteristics in the upper right, an example of the word in the lower left and a non-example in the lower right. Then the class comes up with a class definition that is written below the students’ own definition (see Figure 1). This model can help move the student to a more formal and perhaps more precise understanding of the word.
The model can also be used to examine meanings of words in cross-curricular settings (see Figure 2).