The University of Iowa

Providing Specific Feedback

Student giving specific feedback to a student

Giving the most useful positive and corrective reading feedback will benefit students in the long run.


Posted on: August 17, 2016

Many teachers and family members struggle with how to provide appropriate feedback to students who struggle with reading. How do you balance encouragement with correction? How many mistakes should be overlooked? How do you make sure students don’t continue practicing mistakes?

The most important element of providing feedback is to be specific. Students who struggle are quick to detect cheerful but insincere praise. Even if it is encouraging, it does not help students understand what they should and should not do when reading.  Rather, you want your feedback to tell students exactly what behavior or skills are helping them be successful or exactly what they need to do differently in order to experience reading success. See the two examples below.

  • Positive feedback: As an alternative to telling a student who was self-monitoring for comprehension “Good job!” you could say, “I like the way you reread from the beginning of the paragraph when you got to a sentence that didn’t make sense to you.”
  • Corrective feedback: You might tell a student who skipped over a difficult word: “Let’s stop and read this together. First, we want to break the word apart to figure it out. Then, we will reread the whole sentence to be sure we understand it.”

Students need to know when they have made mistakes because continuing to practice the mistake is not productive. However, it is not necessary to correct every error—especially if the students are English learners or have learning disabilities. Instead, choose one correction for every three positives you identify. Focus on the most important point that will help the student make progress. When you deliver the correction, be matter-of-fact and not judgmental. Model the skill or strategy and emphasize how the student can learn these to improve as a reader.

Whether you are delivering positive or corrective feedback, capitalize on opportunities to model good uses of language. You might repeat students’ comments by recasting the response to demonstrate complete and accurate grammatical structure and pronunciation. You also can extend students’ comments by using more precise terminology or including clarifying information.

Specific feedback is a critical part of your instruction, even during students’ independent practice opportunities. Without it, students may think that being a “good” or “bad” reader is something out of their control. The figure below summarizes the important elements of providing positive and corrective feedback.

Positive feedback Corrective feedback
Avoid phony praise. Provide three positives for each correction.
Model precise language. Use errors as an opportunity for teaching.
Reinforce good use of skills and strategies. Deliver correction in a neutral tone.
Stress the importance of trying hard (effort). Stress the importance of learning and improving.