Provide feedback students will use

by Julie Dodd

“I spend so much time providing my students with helpful feedback on their big project, and they don’t read it.”

I imagine you’ve heard colleagues say that and may have said that yourself.

grading papersHaving grappled with getting my students to read and use my feedback, I’m offering a suggestion:

Provide the most feedback when students are the most interested in receiving it – when they can use your feedback to improve their grade.

Often we provide extensive feedback on a research paper or final project when the assignment is completed. So no matter how useful our feedback may be, the students aren’t able to use the feedback to improve their grade on the assignment.

For example, a student receives a B- on a research paper. The feedback from the teacher is that the paper lacks a developed conclusion and doesn’t include several key research resources. Having that feedback won’t encourage the student to revise the paper if the grade is the final grade.

If the student receives that same grade and feedback on a polished draft, the student is more likely to read those additional references and revise the conclusion because making those changes will improve the grade on the final submission of the paper.

To encourage your students to read and use your feedback may mean that you need to rethink when to provide the greatest amount of feedback, and you may need to restructure the timeline of the assignment.

  1. In the written directions for the assignment that you provide, include the due date and guidelines for what you expect for a draft.
  2. Make the draft a significant part of the overall grade for the assignment (perhaps 30 percent) to encourage students to take the assignment seriously.
  3. Plan the timeline so that you can grade the drafts and return them to the students so that they have time to address your feedback in revising for their final submission.
  4. Consider how this draft grading fits into your overall schedule. Beware of having assignment deadlines at the same time for more than one class. In planning the timeline for the assignment, consider your other responsibilities, such as deadlines for paper submissions for conferences.
  5. Set up a digital rubric or grading criteria that you can use as a checklist so that you don’t have to keep typing the same comments over and over.
  6. Use a course management system to help with the process. Send your feedback through the course management system so that you don’t have to wait until class meets again – if you are teaching a face-to-face class.
  7. Have students submit your feedback when they turn in the final paper. With all the papers you’re grading, you may have forgotten some of the specific guidance you provided and want to make sure you are consistent in your grading of the draft and the final paper.
  8. Be realistic for what you can accomplish. You want to provide students with the opportunity to learn and improve from your feedback. However, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with grading. Consider the class size and how many other courses and other duties you have.

I’ve found that providing students with my feedback before they think they’ve finished the assignment makes them more open to making changes and doing additional work.

For all the time we spend grading student work and offering constructive feedback, we’d like to have the students benefitting from that feedback.

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