Continuing the teacher-student conversation through written feedback

Invariably, not all good ideas will be heard during the course of a discussion, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be heard at all. By requiring students to write responses to weekly readings before class, instructors can take a pulse on student thinking and use students’ written ideas to plan lectures and discussions. Through timely and detailed written feedback on such responses, Jane Mansbridge establishes an ongoing dialogue with students that extends far beyond the four walls of the classroom.


Jane Mansbridge, Charles F. Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Value

Student Group



Harvard Kennedy School of Government


Democratic Theory

Group Size

~30 students

  • Require students to submit weekly reading responses or a set number of reading responses per semester. Responses do not need to follow a formal structure, but they should ask students to engage critically with key ideas, arguments, and takeaways of assigned readings.
  • Consider using a word count or page limit to ensure clear, cogent argumentation in students’ responses
  • Respond to student writing promptly while the content is fresh to keep the conversation going. Spotlighting a few strengths and posing some questions for students to consider are straightforward feedback, manageable for students to digest (and for you to write) without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Incorporate student ideas gleaned from reading responses into your lecture plan to surface specific ideas for the whole class. Students will write more meaningful reflections if they know you will engage critically with their ideas and potentially put them on center stage them during class discussions.
  • Assigning pre-work has been shown to positively impact student participation in areas such as improved classroom interactivity, quality and quantity of teacher-student feedback, student preparedness for class, student study habits, and cognitive gains in biology college classrooms (Marrs & Novak, 2004)
  • One study demonstrates that flipped classrooms which require pre-work and use that pre-work to shape instruction saw improved scores on both summative assessments and GPAs (DeRuisseau, 2016)
  • Approaches to feedback that help facilitate self-regulation in students include clarification of good performance expectations, facilitation of development of self-assessment, encouragement of teacher and peer dialogue, and encouragement of positive motivational beliefs. In addition, helpful feedback gives instructors a chance to close the gap between current student performance and desired future performance (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).  
  • Not all feedback is useful.  Undergraduate students reported that general or vague feedback, feedback which lacked guidance, focused almost entirely on the negative, or remained unrelated to assessment was not helpful (Weaver, 2006).