Grading and feedback are among the most powerful ways in which teachers communicate with students. They are interconnected tools for teachers to express what they think students should be learning, and for helping students make progress toward those goals. In order for students to understand and make use of grades and feedback, faculty and teaching fellows need to ensure that they are:
Consider and tell students the purpose of both grades and feedback in any course. Are grades a measure of achievement? A comparison to other students? A comparison to an absolute standard? What should students do with the feedback they receive – incorporate it into the next assignment? Use it to study for exams? Employ it in later courses or research within their concentrations? Transparency about purpose helps students align their expectations and actions with those of their instructors.
Whatever grading standards are employed within a course should be set forth in the syllabus clearly, at the beginning of the term. When students do not know how they are being evaluated, they may focus on grades become a game of guessing what the instructor wants, rather than on learning the content and skills at the heart of the course. Likewise, feedback to students needs to be expressed clearly, offering an explanation of what students are doing well, what they need to work on, and how to go about improving.
It can be challenging to maintain consistent grading standards across a large course can be challenging. Discussing the grading standards with the entire course staff, using a rubric, and cross-checking grading between section leaders are all good practices that can help. Likewise, instructors within a course must agree on the amount and type of feedback they will provide for students (written, verbal, quantitative, etc.).
Self-Assessment of Student Papers
Self-assessments are designed to help determine what your students already know about their papers, and therefore facilitate your commenting. You might tell them you'll read the form after you read the paper, so that their words will not bias your judgment. You may have students submit a self-assessment as an appendix to the paper itself, or have them respond to a separate online or emailed questionnaire.
If a student indicates their main point clearly in the self-assessment, you can say,"You're very clear about your thesis in your self-assessment. Where have you put it in the paper?" Or if the student says that they would have improved the order of ideas given additional time, you can say that you agree that the order is less logical than it might have been before offering suggestions. (Sometimes the student might even tell you how they would have changed it.) The final question on the self-assessment alerts you to your students' anxieties and questions you may never have imagined. Again, it's a useful way to reassure them and critique their papers diplomatically.
Grading & Feedback Resources
- Grading Practices (B. Gross Davis, Tools for Teaching)
- Assigning Course Grades (UIUC)
- Grading Papers: Criteria
- FAS Undergraduate Handbook: Plagiarism and Collaboration
- FAS Faculty Handbook: Academic Dishonesty
- Responding to Student Writing from the Harvard Writing Project includes strategies for reading, making marginal comments, and making final comments on papers.
- Responding to Response Papers helps you give effective feedback to your students.
- Our Peer Response Sheet provides one way to help students give each other feedback on their writing.