5 Tools For Giving Students Narrative Feedback

flickeringbrad-piano-students5 Web Tools for Giving Students Narrative Feedback

by Mark Barnes

Teachers may reside in a society driven by standards and high stakes testing, but this doesn’t change the fact that the best way to evaluate learning is with formative assessment and narrative feedback. When evaluation becomes a conversation, students are transformed into critics of their own progress and achievement improves.

In decades researching more than 250 million students worldwide, John Hattie, author of Visible Learning, discovered that student self-assessment and teacher feedback impact achievement over the course of a school year far more than traditional assessment techniques. Assuming this is true, and it’s difficult to argue with a sample of 250 million, teachers should be providing meaningful narrative feedback daily to students.

Digital Tools Make Providing Feedback Easy and Engaging

While many teachers readily admit that narrative feedback is a powerful means for evaluating learning, these same educators often struggle with providing feedback, because it’s far more time consuming to write feedback than it is to simply place a number or a letter on a student’s work.

Although providing detailed feedback will always consume more time than the simply giving outdated numbers and letters, there are numerous digital tools that make feedback less cumbersome for teachers and more engaging for students.

5 Web Tools for Feedback

1. Kidblog: Not only will Kidblog turn students into writers and self-evaluators, its comment section provides a powerful feedback platform, as teachers can leave private or public comments on anything a student posts. Plus, teaching students how to provide feedback to peers helps them become better evaluators, in general.

2. Schoology: Best known as a high-powered Learning Managing System (LMS), Schoology is, arguably, even better as a feedback tool. Like Kidblog, Schoology gives teachers and students the option to communicate in writing. Better still, Schoology has built-in media features, making audio and video feedback as easy as point and click.

3. Kaizena voice commenting: Kaizena (Japanese for “good change”) is an app that interacts with Google Docs, empowering teachers with a variety of feedback tools. With Kaizena, teachers can highlight text and leave voice comments. Kaizena also has a wonderful module for uploading outside resources to a library. The resources library allows teachers to provide narrative feedback, followed by a link to teaching model. This is a fantastic time saving feature.

4. Voki: Known as an animated podcasting site, Voki is vastly underrated as a feedback tool. Creating avatars and giving them a voice does take time, but students love the interactivity of Voki. Ask your most shy student to evaluate her work with Voki, and she’ll quickly come out of her shell.

5. Diigo: Most people know Diigo as a social bookmarking website and app. While it serves this purpose well, Diigo is undervalued as an excellent tool for meaningful narrative feedback. Students can bookmark and annotate websites with Diigo, and teachers can comment on this content. Like most of the aforementioned web tools, Diigo has an EDU version, so teachers can turn a classroom Diigo into a Learning Management System.

Providing daily narrative feedback is challenging and time consuming. Using a variety of web tools, though, makes feedback more meaningful and engaging for students and fun for teachers.

Mark Barnes is the author of Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student-Centered Classroom (ASCD, 2013), The 5-Minute Teacher: How do I maximize time for learning in my classroom (ASCD, 2013) and the forthcoming Teaching the iStudent: A quick guide to using mobile devices and social media in the K-12 classroom (Corwin, 2014). Mark is the publisher of the education and variety site, Brilliant or Insane and the acclaimed how-to video site for educators, Learn it in 5; image attribution flickr user flickeringbrad; 5 Excellent Web Tools For Giving Students Narrative Feedback


  • Mr Barnes, your second paragraph has an inaccuracy or two. Inaccuracy the first – John Hattie did not spend decades researching 250 million students worldwide. He in fact synthesised others research.
    Inaccuracy the second – The sample of students in the feedback studies was considerably less than 250million.

    Page 4 of Visible Learning carries a warning about the use of feedback “increasing the amount of feedback in order to have a positive effect on student achievement requires a change in what it means to be a teacher. It is the feedback to teachers about what a student can and cannot do that is more powerful than feedback to students and it necessitates a different way of interacting and respecting students” (Hattie, 2009).

    I do however agree that feedback is a powerful tool and incredibly useful, but the current trend in taking the contents of Visible Learning as being a word for word tool for improving learning and student achievement is not how the book was intended to be used. Remember also that some of the research is over 30 years old, which unfortunately can render it irrelevant. Web based learning = 0.18 probability of improving achievement, that study was completed in 2002. I think that they prevalence and quality of web based instruction has since increased.

    Visible Learning is a useful tool, but consider the context in which it is to be used.

    • Alfie, I couldn’t agree with you more about how Visible Learning is used, but synthesizing research is definitely research.

      If you read carefully what I wrote in the paragraph you identify, you’d see that I do not say Hattie studied 250 million students for the sole purposes of reviewing feedback. I think you misunderstand my intentions for feedback, which should always be two-way — between teacher and student.

      Please note that all of the tools I mention, except maybe Kaizena, give students a chance to give feedback to the teacher. Thanks for reading.

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