Do Tell: Giving Feedback to Your Students

Seven ways to respond to your students’ creative work


Responding to student artwork and performance is one of our significant responsibilities as arts educators. Done well, feedback provides students with tools for successfully engaging and creating in the arts. Here are seven suggestions for educators to consider in responding to student artwork and performance.

 Ages and stages.

It’s important to know how students respond to and understand their artwork from a developmental perspective. Howard Gardner, author of Art Education and Human Development, reminds us that children have developmentally different responses when it comes to understanding art. Early elementary student artists tend to respond to the arts in concrete and literal terms. They may react to the content of the work or the size as indicators of quality. Upper elementary student artists will look for definitive guidelines to tell them what is “good” and what isn’t. Teen artists will often be relative in their responses to quality in creative work. They may argue that indicators of quality are subjective. In other words, who is to say whose opinion is right? For each age and stage, clear assessment criteria will lead to appropriate feedback.

 Get beyond yes and no.

The types of questions we use with student artists greatly impact their learning. Open-ended questions are crucial tools in the development of a student artist. Broad questions encourage young artists to reflect and articulate about their artistic thinking and process. These skills of critical thinking, analysis, and reflection will not only make better artists, but will also have a positive influence on their success in other areas of the curriculum.

 Be specific.

When responding to student work, specificity matters. Share your expertise by being clear and thorough. This is important for both positive and negative feedback. It keeps students from generalizing and focuses them on the key issues. Aligning the feedback with instructional goals helps students see “the big picture” and how feedback fits in. Another suggestion—periodically check for understanding.

Respond timely.

Responding to student artists quickly (but not hastily) is key when the work is fresh for them, particularly in performance. Timely feedback is most effective for student artists and performers. Professional performing artists receive regular—and immediate—notes from choreographers, conductors, and stage directors. Learning how to take feedback and utilize it well is an important professional skill for an artist or any other professional.

 Using your feedback.

Lots of your time and energy goes into responding to student work. Help students make the most of your feedback. Provide opportunities to answer their questions about your comments. Build the use of feedback into assignments and instruction. Feedback—both receiving and utilizing it—should be part of “business as usual.” Specific ways in which a drama teacher can respond to student work can be found here.


Sometimes the important thing to say to a student artist needs to be said by the student artist. Build in frequent opportunities for students to reflect on their work. Taking their self-reflection seriously and holding them accountable for it builds an important artistic muscle.


Different learners may need different types of responses to their work. Weave in both written and oral feedback. Consider the unique needs of reluctant students, as well as English language learners, and special needs students. Successful students also need feedback. These students have developed a commitment to the art form and feedback supports their artistic growth and maturity. Your responses continue this.

Good teacher feedback helps students make choices, form an opinion, and build student autonomy both as artists and young people. The arts classroom is uniquely positioned to provide this feedback and nurture students in these ways.



Patti Saraniero
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Tiffany Bryant
Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment


Gardner, Howard. Art Education and Human Development. Los Angeles: The Getty Center for Education in the Arts, 1990.

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