7 Practical Tips for Providing Meaningful Feedback

Seven Essential Grading TipsGrading should not be a random act. Points should not be arbitrarily assigned or deducted from students’ papers. There must be an equitable way to add or deduct points from a paper. The expectations must be expressed in the assignment directions as well as in the grading rubric. This makes grading easier, because just as students need guidance, a road map, so to speak, so do we, the instructors grading the work.

Use a Grading Rubric

The grading rubric alerts the students and the instructor to the important points a paper should contain. This is where you should focus your attention when grading; it explain how to spend your time, and how to spend it wisely, when grading.

Not too little, not too much…

Too often, I see new instructors provide WAY too much feedback or just the opposite – no feedback at all. There must be a balance. Students need feedback. This helps them to identify why they received the grade they earned. It also gives them guidance for improving future work. However, too much red on a paper can be just as unhelpful as a paper returned without any feedback. Overwhelming! Confusing!

Be Intentional

It is unnecessary and unproductive, as well as time consuming, to correct every spelling, grammatical, conventional, and mechanical error on a student’s paper. Instead, it is more constructive to select on page of the paper (usually in the middle of the paper works best), and highlight errors. Then instruct students to look for similar errors in the remainder of the paper.

Work Smarter Not Harder

Because I tend to see the same mistakes over and over again when grading, I have generated lists of general comments that I use when grading papers. This helps to save time and ensures that every student is receiving quality feedback. If you are working with a graduate assistant or grading assistant, this also help to ensure consistency of feedback being provided.

In addition to general comments that relate to formatting, organization, and mechanics, I have several comments for each assignment that specifically relate to the content for the assignment. You can quickly develop these as you grade your first few papers. Or you can use the grading rubric and develop content specific comments. I like to use Excel to store my comments. I create a new tab for each assignment for a class as well as a tab for General Comments. You can add or revise comments, over time, just like you modify and revise lesson plans, activities, and assignments.

When it comes to formatting errors, general comments about errors relating to formatting can be generated. Consider comments that you might make on the title page, reference page, headings, or in-text citation and reference formatting as you generate the list. You may also create and save comments that you frequently use.

Set Clear Expectations

One way to reduce errors is to teach or review concepts, even if you think the students were previously taught the information. Reinforcement can help to clarify expectations and reduce errors that are made.

For example: It may be helpful to introduce and teach one specific skill related to formatting each week. Then you can focus feedback on the skills you introduced.  You might begin by teaching the correct formatting of a running head and page numbers. On the assignment, students should have this part of the paper properly formatted. If they do not, make comments and deduct points from the formatting section of the grading rubric. Throughout the semester, continue to instruct on different formatting components until students have been instructed on all formatting guidelines. They should have a perfectly formatted paper by the end of the semester. This also reduces the likelihood that students will complain they were never taught proper formatting.

Provide Quality Feedback

When you deduct points from a student’s paper, it is good practice to ensure a comment was also included to help the student make corrections to future assignments. The quality of the comment can make all the difference.

Example 1

Comment:

You are missing a comma.

Or

No Comma

Better: You are missing a comma. Here is a weblink to assist you in reviewing the rules of comma use: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/owlprint/607/

Remember, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel when helping students make improvements. There are a lot of great resources on the web that you can provide to students. Purdue Owl is one of my favorites!

Example 2

Comment: Missing a thesis statement

Better: You are missing a thesis statement. The thesis statement guides your paper development by providing a purpose and main points that will be covered. Here is a link to help with thesis statement development: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/545/01/

Consider Using a Grading Tool

There are grading tools such as Type It In and Grademark to help make grading faster and more streamlined. Comments can be added into these programs to make grading more efficient. Your university may offer access to a program like this. It might be a good idea to ask other instructors to see if they use any of these programs.

7 Practical Tips for Providing Meaningful FeedbackGood feedback does not have to be time consuming. But it should be specific and provide feedback that guides corrections in future papers. You do not need to point out every error. The feedback provided and the grading rubric should complement each other and should provide students with a clear picture of why and how points were deducted.

Tips for Preventing Academic Dishonesty

Tips for Reducing Academic DishonestyStudents report cheating in many ways. And technology is making it easier and easier to do so. The Open Education Data Base (http://oedb.org/ilibrarian/8-astonishing-stats-on-academic-cheating/) cited a survey that included 30,000 students; 60% reported cheating while in college. It was also reported that cheaters have higher grade point averages than peers who do not cheat. Popular paper mill websites report receiving about 8,000 hits per day. Roughly 75-98% of students who are cheating in college were also cheating in high school. 85% of students reported that cheating is essential to their academic success.

This information as well as some experiences we had in our classes last year, lead to a discussion with colleagues about academic dishonesty. We questioned ways in which we could work to reduce this problem. Additionally, what more could and should we be doing if students are reporting cheating is essential to academic success?

What are we talking about?

When we are talking about academic dishonesty, we are focusing mainly on plagiarism and cheating on assessments, exams and quizzes, in the traditional classroom setting as well as in the online learning environment.

Do students know they are cheating?

As part of the discussion, we questioned, “do student always know they are cheating?”. This specifically applies to plagiarism. For example, when they are writing papers, do they know that they have plagiarized when they present a summary of an article, and they do not cite the source in-text. It is not simply just copying and pasting something that someone else wrote, which is what many students believe. Perhaps, being more intentional about not only teaching students what plagiarism is, but also exactly what they can do to avoid it is necessary.

How do we know?

So…how would we know if a student is cheating? For example, how do we know if a student bought a paper from an online site, especially if they are in an online setting. How can we be sure that they are buying a paper and not receiving help from the tutoring center at the school? Building relationships is one way to help to identify cheating. The more interactions we have with students in the discussion forums and through face to face conversations or conversations by phone, the better equip we are to determine if the work being submitted is similar to other interactions we are having with the student.

Technology and Cheating

Wearables have become more popular and prevalent in recent years. They are another tool that students are using to cheating. This came to our attention at the end of the semester when a student was caught using a wearable to access study material during an exam. It appeared that a resource that was given in class was on a student’s wearable and that it was being used during an assessment. After addressing the student regarding the situation, it was clear that bans on wearables would now also need to be addressed in course policies. Prior to this incident, things like cell phones, other technology, and resources were banned, but we had not specifically included wearables.

PoliciesReducing Academic Dishonesty

In some academic institutions, academic policies have not been updated in a decade or more. Therefore, there are not bans put into place or consequences written to address academic dishonesty that can occur using technology, such as wearables. As academics, we are responsible to ensure that documents that are relevant to our classes are updated regularly. If new technological advances have not been considered and included in Course Policies, we would like to encourage you to meet wth your colleagues as you prepare for the semester and revise the policies used.

Consequences 

Academics also report that they do not feel the consequences for academic dishonesty always fit the offense. Academics need to ensure that they are involved in writing policies that are put into place to reduce academic dishonesty and address it when it occurs. If students know that they will only receiving a warning, they are not as worried about cheating than if they hear they will receive a 0, get kicked out of class, or get kicked out of school. While we are not saying that kicking students out of school is the best answer, it is important that students understand the severity of cheating and that consequences deter students from participating.

Additionally, students do not feel the consequences for academic dishonesty are harsh enough. Students get really upset when they are aware that a classmate is cheating without consequence. Students, who are working hard to earn their grades, find this to be unfair, unethical, and want the peer who is cheating to be punished. They look to the professor to address the behavior and report it.

Reporting

Is the process for reporting academic dishonesty at your institution easy to access and use? Faculty may feel that reporting cheating is too tedious and too time consuming. In addition speculation is often not enough to report a situation. If they instructor does not have “hard evidence”, they may be unable to report the situation that took place. Therefore, the incident goes unreported and the student may be cheating in multiple classes without consequence.

Students are becoming more creative in the methods they use to cheat in classes. Therefore, we must also become more creative in the ways in which we work to maintain the integrity of the course content and materials used to assess students. They must learn the material in our courses as they will be our colleagues in the field one day.

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Check out our Facebook live session as we discuss Academic Dishonesty.

Creating and Using Grading Rubrics

Semester Preparation_ Creating Grading RubricsHave you ever received a grade on an assignment and wondered how the score was assigned? Did you question if the instructor even read your paper? Did you wonder how you could improve your next paper due to lack of feedback provided? When grading assignments, how will you ensure that students do not have the same questions? As you prepare for the semester, not only should you create assignments but also tools you will use to grade them.

The Purpose of Rubrics

Rubrics are tools used to assess students learning. A rubric should guide the evaluator’s attention to important elements that need to be assessed in papers, project, or presentations. A well developed grading rubric helps to guide the type of work students produce. In addition, it allows instructors to provide feedback when grading that is clear and directed toward assignment goals and expectations. Rubrics also ensure consistency and fairness by clearly communicating your expectations. A grading rubric should clearly state:

  • The assignment purpose
  • Objectives being measured
  • Point DistributionPractical professors-6

Creating Rubrics or Scoring Guides

Depending upon the purpose of the assignment and the assignment directions, expectations and requirements on the grading rubric/scoring guide will vary for each assignment. By creating a template with some common components, you can modify it for each assignment. Thus, when you are creating a rubric or scoring guide consider including the following categories:

  • Content
  • Thesis Statement
  • Organization (sentence and paragraph development)
  • Mechanics
  • References – Support from the Research
  • Formatting

Transparency

Provide the grading rubric or scoring guide to students when you assign the work to be completed. It should accompany the assignment directions. This transparency provides the students with the information that they need to successfully complete the assignment.

Rubrics and scoring guides help to keep faculty and teaching assistants objective. Further, it helps students to evaluate their own performance on an assignment. Clearly communicating your expectations and how an assignment will be graded can lead to higher quality work, because it provides students with the necessary knowledge to rise to the challenge before them and meet expectations of the assignment.

Finally, my favorite reason for using a rubric or scoring guide is the reduction in grading time! The rubric helps to focus your attention on the key elements identified as important. This allows you to focus on these elements as you read and provide comments on the paper or project.

Related Blog Posts:

Practical Advice for First Year Faculty

Practical Tips For Semester Preparation

Do you use student feedback when you prepare for the semester?

Online Teaching Tips

Grade Contest: Negotiating a Grade Appeal

Extra Credit

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Extra credit! These are two words that I hear a lot at this time in the semester. “Dr. Terry, is there extra credit that I can do to improve my grade?” Often, students don’t worry about their grade until the last minute – the end of the semester. This can put a lot of strain on professors at the end of the semester. Grading deadlines and other responsibilities can be compounded if extra credit assignments are accepted and must also be graded. For this reason, it is important to have a plan.

So, what’s yours? How will you address students who come to you at the end of the semester and ask for extra credit? If you haven’t thought about this, it could catch you off guard, and you could make a decision that makes the end of the semester even more stressful for you.

While it’s important to ensure that students have the opportunity to be successful in your class, it is not a professor’s responsibility to plan extra credit activities for students who didn’t come to class regularly, participate, turn in assignments on time, turn in quality assignments, attend office hours for help if they were struggling, and study. During the semester, I remind my students that I do not award extra credit opportunities under any circumstance at the end of the semester. I’m flexible, and I work with them throughout the semester if circumstances arise and they communicate with me. On each assessment, I include an extra credit question to help them improve their score if they miss a question. I also provide the opportunity to attend an event or complete and optional activity to make up participation points a couple of times throughout the semester. But, I do not go out of my way and inconvenience myself at the end of the semester to help a student who didn’t plan and prepare effectively during the semester. Their lack of planning will not cause me to be frantic at the end of the semester.

Students need to learn to be responsible and if that means earning a “B” instead of the desired “A” maybe in their next class, they work a little bit harder, during the semester, instead of waiting until the end.

So what is your policy? Share your tips with us. Let us know how you deal with those two dreaded words – Extra Credit!

Grade Contest: Negotiating a Grade Appeal

Grades are very personal, especially written assignments. Students will sometimes question or even challenge a grade that they were given on a paper. By providing detailed feedback, grade appeals often be avoided. When points are being deducted from a paper or assignment, it is best practice to include a comments explaining why points were deducted.

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The comments should be tied to the grading rubric. The grading rubric should specifically include expectations. When the expectations are not met, a comment will help to direct the student to the section of the rubric where points were deducted. Students may disagree with the way a particular section of the paper was scored. They may wish to discuss why points were deducted from a particular column of the rubric. The comments provided not only help the students but they can also be beneficial in sparking your memory. The help to clarify why points were deducted. They lead to what was missing, incorrect, or in need of editing.

Handing back papers at the end of class allows students to focus on current material, get feedback, then leave and process. However, it can also mean that students stay after and immediately want to talk about their grade. You do not have to have a cornered conversation, schedule it!

The 24/7 Rule

As a part of my classroom policies, I have a 24/7 rule. Students cannot approach me about their grade within 24 hours of receiving it. This gives them time to cool off if they are upset and reflect on my comments. However, students do need to have a scheduled appointment to discuss their grade within seven days of receiving it. Even if the time that works best for the student and myself is 10 days later, the appointment must be scheduled within this seven day window. Having this clause helps to prevent talking about grades from week three in the final week of the semester.

The Meeting

Listen to what the student has to say. Be open to their argument. I also advise walking the student through their paper in relation to the rubric. If the student still does not agree with how you graded the paper, tell them you will need 24 hours to consider their argument. Explain to the student that you need time to consider their argument and review the paper in relation to the rubric. If you promise to follow up within 24 hours, honor that promise and contact the student letting them know your decision.  This may include explaining that they will see an increase in points for a particular section of the gradebook or that the grade will remain the same. alejandro-escamilla-2

After providing further explanation and clarification, students may request to revise or rewrite a paper for a higher grade. It is important to be prepared for this type of situation so that you are able  to respond appropriately, consistently, and fairly. You should consider how you will address requests to redo assignments. Will every student in the class who receives a low grade and wishes to revise an assignment be given the same opportunity? How much time will it take you to regrade papers that are revised and resubmitted? Grading assignments two times each can be very time consuming. Rather than accepting revised papers, I instruct my students to use the feedback to improve future submissions. Papers submitted early in the semester tend to be worth less points, so they do not impact their ability to improve their grade if they do implement feedback and comments into future submissions.

It is also important to consider unique or special situations that may call for the opportunity to revise and resubmit a paper for a better grade. While it is good to be fair, this does not always mean treating each student equally. There may be a situation that you decide calls for a resubmission.

Just like you may need time to consider a changing a grade, you may also need time to consider a request to redo an assignment. It is acceptable to let the student know you will need time to consider the request. Again, be sure to honor the timeframe in which you informed the student that a decision would be delivered.

Push Back

I remind students of my policy when I return papers, but I do have students that still attempt to talk to me before they leave. Even if they state they only need a minute, the bottom line is they want to have a detailed conversation about their grade. Discussing a grade at that point in the classroom is not the appropriate time or place.  It is acceptable to kindly remind students of the 24/7 policy. If they continue to push the issue, you may need to inform the student that a Code of Conduct will be filed.

You do not always have to give in to student requests. But you must ensure that the way you address situations regarding grade appeals is similar and fair. Don’t provide exceptions to one student that you are not willing to extend to all the students in the class. Remember some cases will call for special considerations. Students will talk. They will become aware of unfair practices. They will become upset and some will complain. But as long as your practices are equitable, you will have nothing to worry about.

Photo Credit: @helloquence & @alejandroescamilla