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Giving Pupils Feedback Using E-mail

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The following suggestions may help you to exploit the benefits of e-mail, not least to save you time and energy in giving pupils feedback.


The posting below offers a number of practical tips on communicating with students via e-mail. It is from Part 1, Tip Across the Curriculum, 59. Giving pupils feedback using email, in 2000 Tips for Teachers, edited by Nick Packard & Phil Race. ISBN 0 7494 3182 2. Kogan Page Limited, 120 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9JN, UK. Distributed by Stylus Publishing Limited, 2283 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, VA 20166, USA. ?Copyright Phil Race, 2000. The right of Phil Race to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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E-mail is particularly useful as a vehicle for giving pupils individual feedback on assessed work, and can save you time and energy as you mark their work. E-mail feedback can extend usefully, from time to time, to giving pupils feedback on hand-written work that they have submitted for assessment. The following suggestions may help you to exploit the benefits of e-mail, not least to save you time and energy in giving pupils feedback:

* Make the most of the comfort of privacy. When pupils receive feedback by e-mail (as opposed to face-to-face or in class), they have the comfort of being able to read the feedback without anyone (particularly you!) being able to see their reactions to it. This is most useful when you need to give some critical feedback to pupils.

* Remember that you can edit your own feedback before you send it. For example, you may well want to adjust individual feedback comments in the light of pupils' overall performance. It's much harder to edit your own hand-written feedback on pupils' written work. E-mail feedback allows you to type in immediate feedback to things that you see in each pupil's work, and to adjust or delete particular parts of your feedback as you go further into marking their work.

* Exploit the space. Inserting hand-written feedback comments into pupils' written work is limited by the amount of space that there may be for your comments. With e-mail feedback, you don't have to restrict your wording if you need to elaborate on a point.

* Consider combining e-mail feedback with written feedback. Occasionally, for example, you can write on to pupils' work a series of numbers of letters, at the points where you wish to give detailed feedback. The e-mail feedback can then translate these numbers or letters into feedback comments or phrases, so that pupils can see exactly what each element of feedback is telling them. The fact that pupils sometimes have to decode the feedback can help them to think about it more deeply, and learn from it effectively.

* Spare yourself from repeated typing. When designing computer-delivered feedback messages, you should aim towards only having to type each important message once. You can then copy and paste any of the messages when you need to give several pupils the same feedback information. It can be useful to combine this process with numbers or letters which you write on pupils' work, and building up each e-mail to individual pupils by pasting together the feedback messages which go with each of the numbers or letters.

* Consider the possibilities of 'global' feedback messages. For example, you may wish to give all of the pupils in a class the same feedback message about overall matters arising from a test or exercise. The overall message can be pasted into each e-mail before the individual comments addressed to each pupil.

* Check that your email feedback is getting through. Most e-mail systems can be programmed to send you back a message saying when the e-mail was opened, and by whom. This can help you to identify any pupils who are not succeeding at opening their e-mails. It can also be useful sometimes to end each e-mail with a question asking the pupil to reply to you on some point arising from the feedback. This helps to make sure that pupils don't just open their e-mail feedback messages, but have to read them!

* Keep records of your e-mail feedback. It is easy to keep copies on disk of all of your feedback to each pupil, and you can open a folder for each pupil if you wish. This makes it much easier to keep track of your ongoing feedback to individual pupils, than when your hand-written feedback is lost to you when you return their work to them. If you use e-mail a lot for feedback, these collections of feedback save time when you come to writing reports.

* Make the most of the technology. For example, many e-mail systems support spellcheck facilities, which can allow you to type really fast and ignore most of the resulting errors, until you correct them all just before sending your message. This also causes you to re-read each message, which can be very useful for encouraging you to add second thoughts that may have occurred to you as you went further in your assessment of the task.

* Use e-mail to gather feedback from your pupils. Pupils are often bolder sitting at a computer terminal than they are face-to-face with you. Ask your pupils questions about how they are finding selected aspects of their studies, but don't turn it into an obvious routine questionnaire. Include some open-ended questions, so that they feel free to let you know how they are feeling about their own progress, and (if you're brave enough!) about your teaching too.