The 7 Hallmarks of Effective Feedback

As educators, we inherently know that feedback is important. But why is feedback such a powerful learning tool? What can it accomplish? And how can you best leverage feedback to achieve the desired results?

Over the past two decades, the body of research on academic feedback has gained significant attention. Effective feedback has been shown to dramatically accelerate learner growth — equivalent to eight additional months of in-class time per year.  Feedback drives other tangible results, too. It has been found to immediately boost test scores and school culture, resulting in lower failure rates, fewer suspensions, and better attendance. In short, effective feedback is an ingredient for success!

A Model for Academic Feedback

To provide effective feedback on written responses, teachers need a tool they can rely on for quick grading. CommonLit makes it easy to provide targeted, high-quality responses on short writing assignments. 

CommonLit lets teachers give feedback that aligns with the research-backed framework we use at The Graide Network, “The Seven Hallmarks of Effective Feedback.” Our model is adapted from renowned educator Grant Wiggin's feedback and assessment work, and has been honed to apply specifically to student writing. Using this research framework, let's explore how CommonLit can help teachers excel in the critical art of responding to student work.

The Four Keys to Effective Feedback on Short Answer Responses

So what makes feedback effective? There are a number of key components. When responding to short response writing in the CommonLit platform, there are four key things to keep in mind: 

Goal-oriented: Feedback on student work should be tied to specific, measurable learning goals, objectives, or standards. When giving feedback, try to link your comments to the expectations laid out in the assignment prompt and rubric. Directly reference the prompt and rubric components, using similar language where possible. This helps students understand where they are in relation to the stated goals.

Prioritized: Feedback should be concise and focused on the areas of strength and growth that will have the greatest impact on the student's writing. It isn't feasible or advisable to provide feedback on every aspect of a student's writing. Concise, focused feedback is more digestible for students and easier to internalize and implement. You will have to make judgement calls on where to focus. Think bite-sized and prioritized.

Actionable: Feedback should be so specific that the student immediately knows how to take action. Your comments should clearly describe their successes and shortfalls and directly reference the student's work in order to point the student to their next steps. To advance students' metacognition and enable them to self-assess their work, ask probing questions that will spark thoughtful reflection and a new understanding for how to develop their work.

Student-Friendly: Feedback should be personalized and engaging to ensure it reaches the student. To aid student acceptance of feedback, respond like a reader who is seeking to understand what the student has written. An encouraging, positive tone will go far in helping students accept your feedback and apply it to future work. Be sure to use language that is clear and not too technical. 

Learning to Action

Now that we understand the key ingredients for responding to short response, let’s take a look at a real example for a student response to The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.

Carlos was asked to answer the question: “How does the poet’s use of personification in the poem contribute to the theme? Use at least one piece of cited evidence in your response.”

Here is Carlos’ response:

In the text, the poet writes that the Statue of Liberty "glows world-wide welcome." This is an example of personification that the author uses to explain the impact that the Statue of Liberty has. In other words, the words the author uses helps the reader see that she represents freedom for immigrants from around the world.

Here’s how you might provide feedback to Carlos:

  • Carlos, you did a good job reframing the question in your response and you choose a relevant and accurate example of personification.
  • I like your analysis of the personification of the State of Liberty, but you’ve missed explaining exactly how it supports the theme. Remember, the theme is what the work reveals about a universal topic. Re-read the poem and try to answer: what is the central theme? How does the personification example you chose reveal this theme to the reader? Don’t forget to use evidence to explain the connection you’re making!

What makes this feedback effective?  

First, it is goal-oriented as it ties directly back to the prompt and how well the student answered it. It’s student-friendly because it is personalized and engaging. Asking probing questions of the student is a great strategy to get them thinking and implementing feedback more effectively. This feedback is actionable because it references Carlos’ work and includes actionable questions for the student. Finally, this feedback is prioritized. It focuses on the writer’s greatest strengths (restating the question, choosing an effective example) as well as the areas of growth that will have the biggest impact on the writing (connecting example with theme, citing evidence). 

For teachers who want to take student writing and feedback even further, I’d highly recommend using the CommonLit discussion questions as essay prompts. It’s a fun and effective way to support extended writing off-platform.

This discussion question from Maria W. Stewart’s speech, ‘Why Sit Here and Die’ would make a great prompt for a 5 paragraph essay, with each body paragraph relating to a different piece of evidence — one from the text, one personal experience, and one from another literary or historical source.

Three Additional Keys to Effective Feedback in Practice

When you’re building a feedback framework into your practice, there are a few additional things to keep in mind to make sure your feedback is most effective:

Ongoing, Consistent, and Timely: To be effective, feedback must also be ongoing, consistent, and timely. This means that students need ample opportunities to use feedback and that the feedback must be accurate, trustworthy and stable. When feedback isn’t timely, students are disengaged and demotivated. As a teacher, it’s important to be intentional when you think about assigning work and strive to build regular feedback loops into your classroom.

Go Forth and Engage Students with Confidence!

Effectively responding to student writing has never been more important. Today’s students are producing an enormous variety of work on a near daily basis that is more dynamic and less formulaic than ever before, enabled by new mediums and a shift away from one-size-fits-all teaching models. The CommonLit platform is a perfect example of this — it’s an amazing tool that gives students increased opportunities to read and practice writing and it makes it easy for teachers to provide feedback. Win-win.

The next time you assign your students a text in the CommonLit platform, I highly encourage you to practice your effective feedback skills. Your students will thank you for it!

About the author:

Liz is the founder of The Graide Network, an education company specializing in feedback on extended response and essay writing. Visit their website to learn more or reach out to — she’d love to hear from you!

CommonLit Launches New “Browse by Book” Feature

May 4, 2017

Washington, D.C. - Edtech nonprofit CommonLit announced today the launch of a new free feature which allows teachers to browse its entire digital library by 50 commonly-taught book titles. The new “Browse by Book” tool helps teachers find reading passages to supplement book units.

Today, over 22,000 schools rely on CommonLit’s free online reading program. The website has gained viral traction in the edtech market over the past year, its user base increasing 85 times. In October 2016, CommonLit was featured in TechCrunch for winning a $3.9 million grant for Innovative Approaches to Literacy.

The new “Browse by Book” feature makes it easier for teachers to use research-based best practices: helping students build context and make connections across texts. For example, with one click, teachers can find hand-picked supplemental passages for the book Animal Farm to help students understand the allegorical references in the book.  

“With this exciting new feature, we provide teachers with a range of both informational and literary texts” says Koyé Oyedeji, Senior Curriculum Writer at CommonLit. “It’s where new ways of thinking about a novel can be fully explored through cross-textual analysis.”

With a free account, teachers get access to this new feature and CommonLit’s entire library of instructional materials. The reading passages can be assigned digitally through the platform.  CommonLit data reports help teachers personalize instruction to meet the unique needs of students in grades 5-12. Schools with limited technology can download a printable version of the reading passages and the corresponding question sets.

“As a literacy platform, this is the next step in helping teachers plan out their lessons and units strategically” says Sarah Mielbye, Chief Product Officer at CommonLit. “We know that the most effective reading classrooms engage students with full-length books during the year, and we want to make that best practice easier for teachers.”

CommonLit launched “Browse by Book” with 50 titles. The organization plans to expand this number in the coming year. Some popular titles currently available include:


Animal Farm

The Crucible

The Giver

The Great Gatsby

In the Time of the Butterflies

The Joy Luck Club

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass


Things Fall Apart


Book pairings are available to educators and parents through a free account at

Four Creative Ways to Use CommonLit's Nonfiction Text Sets

Last week, the team at CommonLit was thrilled to announce the release of Nonfiction Text Sets. Text sets are groups of 5-20 individual texts that share a common topic. To kick off this announcement, we published 27 new texts sets to the site (see a list here). All of them are freely available to teachers.

In this post, I’ll explain a few of the ways I imagine teachers could use our nonfiction text sets to purposefully drive student achievement in both English and Social Studies classrooms.

Research and Writing

Teachers can use CommonLit for an extended research unit on a topic such as The Civil Rights Movement. In a research unit, students read extensively on a single topic and then form a conclusion based upon the expertise they have gained. Our text set on the Civil Rights Movement, which includes 16 different texts (and counting) can be assigned to students strategically, or as a complete set. Below are just a few examples of writing prompts that teachers can use to drive the research unit:

  • Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, how was non-violent protest used to promote the goal of racial equality?
  • What role did the court play in the Civil Rights Movement?
  • What changes were made to America’s laws during the Civil Rights Movement? How did these changes affect the lives of African-Americans?

Argumentation and Debate

CommonLit’s text sets can also be used to practice argumentative writing, which is a cornerstone of college-readiness. Argumentative prompts require that students read widely about a single debatable topic, and pick a side to defend. Students must compose an original claim, and support that claim with concrete examples from the various texts they’ve read. The final product of an argumentative unit could be a longer essay and participation in an oral class debate or discussion.

Below are a few examples of argumentative writing prompts that teachers could assign to students based upon CommonLit’s American Civil War text set:

  • Was the result of The Civil War ever truly in question? In other words, was there any way that the South could have been victorious?
  • Was The Civil War avoidable? Was there any way that leaders could have prevented confrontation?

Learning Vocabulary

Texts sets are a great way for students to learn vocabulary. Within each CommonLit text set, teachers will find domain-specific vocabulary words and concepts that appear continuously throughout the texts on that given topic. Through frequent exposure to these words, students will be much more likely to retain the definition and use them in writing and speech.

For example, here are just a few domain-specific words that are repeated within our Modern Democracy in America text set:

“bill” - 2 times
“election” - 3 times
“right” - 3 times
“Supreme Court” - 4 times
“legislate” or “legislator” - 3 times
“democracy” - 3 times

Differentiation and Reading Ladders

Text sets also make it extremely easy for teachers to differentiate instruction while still keeping students in the same class learning about the same topic. Using the CommonLit digital platform, teachers can assign different texts on the same topic to different students based on their ability level.

Let’s use the Native American History text set as an example:

  • If a teacher wants her students to understand Native American removal, she could assign “Excerpts from Trail of Tears Diary” (1000L, 5th-6th grade) to struggling students and “Andrew Jackson’s Speech to Congress on ‘Indian Removal’” (1390L, 9th-10th grade) to more advanced readers.
  • For a teacher who wants their students to learn about the history of Native American boarding schools, “Those Kids Never Got to Go Home” (9th-10th grade)  may be appropriate for some students whereas “Behind the Native American Achievement Gap” (7th-8th grade) may be better for students on a slightly lower level.

Another slightly different option is to use something called “reading ladders.” A reading ladder is a series of texts, often on the same topic or within the same genre, that become progressively more difficult. Students can move to the next text once they show mastery on the lower level text. This is a great way to help students gain a sense of confidence as they struggle with complex text.

Using CommonLit’s Native American History text set, students may begin with a text like “Excerpts from Trail of Tears Diary” (1000L, 5th-6th grade) and then move to a somewhat harder text like “From Resistance to Reservations” (1080L, 9th-10th) since these two texts address very similar topics.

Regardless of what strategies you choose, we hope that you love our nonfiction text sets!

If you need any help implementing CommonLit across your school or district, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at I’m excited to talk to support you and learn about how you’re using CommonLit.

CommonLit Launches Text Sets

Washington, D.C. - Edtech nonprofit Commonlit announced today the launch of the latest addition to its free digital library: text sets. Each text set contains 5-20 individual lesson resources that share a common topic or historical period.

Like all of the materials on CommonLit’s free website, the texts themselves can be assigned to classes or individual students through the platform. Students answer a set of text-dependent questions online and teachers access data analytics on student progress. Each text also comes with a discussion guide, recommended paired passages, related media, and a parent guide. Schools with limited technology can download a printable version of the resources.

“We created text sets to help teachers prepare coherent units, rich with supplemental texts to build essential background knowledge and help students gain a sense of expertise about a topic or historical period. Text sets will make it easier for teachers to do research-based instructional design," says Michelle Brown, founder and CEO of CommonLit.  

Current text sets include:

Ancient Egypt
Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
Native American History
The American Colonies
Slavery in America
The American Revolution
Founding the United States
Westward Expansion
The Civil War
Reconstruction to Jim Crow
Worker’s Rights
The Gilded Age
The Progressive Era
World War I
The Great Depression
The Holocaust
World War II
The Civil Rights Movement
The Cold War
The Vietnam War
Modern Democracy in America
Political Theory
International Revolutions
Women’s Rights
Influential Speeches

"Text sets allow students to read deeply and critically about a topic. Through repeated exposure to a breadth of information on one subject matter, students begin to draw thematic conclusions, learn new vocabulary, and connect historical dots,” says Anna Hodges, CommonLit’s Director of Content Development.

Text sets are available to educators and parents through a free account at

CommonLit Partners with Texthelp to provide accessible content for all learners

Texthelp’s literacy and language support toolbar is now available on CommonLit’s free educational content platform

October 10, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) – Today, CommonLit, the free online platform for 5th-12th grade literacy, launched a new integrated toolbar, that will make complex text more accessible to all types of readers/learners including those struggling with literacy. The toolbar, which offers text-to-speech and translation support, is made possible through a partnership with Texthelp, a company that creates literacy and language support software. The toolbar will be available to CommonLit users for free.

Texthelp’s software toolbar will enable teachers and students to:

  • Listen to text read aloud;
  • Translate selected text into different languages;
  • View word definitions with a single click;
  • Highlight digital text.

CommonLit’s digital library contains over 450 lessons that include authentic published works from National Public Radio, Science News for Students, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Digital Public Library of America, and more. Each lesson includes a standards-aligned question set, a discussion guide, linked to related multimedia, and a guide to engage parents and promote literacy development at home. Today, CommonLit is being used in over 12,000 schools across the United States.

As part of this exciting new partnership, Texthelp is also providing reading fluency support via the CommonLit platform for struggling readers and English Language Learners (ELL) through their Fluency Tutor for Google tool, which can also be used with any of the OER content. More information on how to get started on Fluency Tutor is available on CommonLit’s website.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer Texthelp’s advanced technology to the hundreds of thousands of students we serve,” said CommonLit’s founder, Michelle Brown. “This toolbar makes CommonLit text fully interactive. It’s a game-changer for teachers who are trying to support struggling readers and English Language Learners in class.”

Rob Fleisher, CommonLit’s Director of School Support, used Texthelp’s Read&Write browser extension when he taught 7th grade English. “These tools are a way for students with disabilities to be on a level playing field with students that don’t have disabilities. Through this partnership, we are able to bring Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to scale.”

Mark McCusker, CEO of Texthelp: “As Open Education Resources become more prominent in the education content space, we recognize the importance of content accessibility for both students and educators at any stage of the learning journey. Encouraging students of all kinds of learning abilities is key, not only nourishing their comprehension of texts, but also developing their reading fluency.  We’re delighted to partner with CommonLit as they continue to grow and offer more OER resources.”

Founded as a nonprofit, CommonLit’s mission is to help students make measurable gains in reading and writing. For more information and to explore the site’s new accessibility features, visit