Grading and Providing Feedback: Consistency, Effectiveness, and Fairness
You know that grading is an important part of teaching, but providing feedback is equally important. When you assign a grade and offer general or individualized feedback to your students, you help them focus on their progress, show that you share that focus, and increase your online presence. You can also use grading and feedback to influence your students’ performance in a positive way, encourage their participation in the course, and promote course content.
Tips for Providing Feedback
To achieve the goals mentioned above, you’ll want to do the following:
- Grade fairly and consistently.
- Provide effective feedback.
- Use fair grading policies.
Grade fairly and consistently.
Students will work hard if they believe your grading is fair and consistent. Perceptions of unfairness or inconsistency can cause frustration and erode students’ motivation and learning. To maintain fairness and consistency, consider using the following best practices:
- Establish clear grading criteria for assignments and exams. Provide a rubric or answer key that defines performance criteria for assignments or exams. (See our article on rubrics to see the numerous advantages in using rubrics.)
- Discuss grading criteria with all graders to align perspectives. Will more than one person grade student work? If so, grade a few samples in common and then compare and discuss grading criteria. Doing so will build greater consistency across graders.
- Grade one question at a time rather than one student at a time. Grade all the answers to a particular question on an exam or assignment at one time. This will help you grade the established criteria consistently and maintain fairness across all students.
- Beware of conflicts of interest. Are there students in your class whom you feel you cannot grade impartially because of some sort of shared history, positive or negative? If so, ask someone else to grade those students’ work.
- Avoid grading when you’re extremely tired. You’re more likely to be irritable and inconsistent when you’re tired, so try to do your grading when you’re energetic and clearheaded.
Provide effective feedback.
Feedback plays a critical role in improving students’ learning and performance. However, not all feedback is equally useful. Here are five characteristics of effective feedback:
- Feedback should be prioritized. Too much feedback can be overwhelming, so try to prioritize your feedback. Choose a few key dimensions to comment on, avoid extensive marginal comments, and write end comments that highlight important issues rather than minutiae.
- Feedback should be descriptive. Be specific when you address your students’ work. For example, rather than simply saying, “Good presentation,” describe the characteristics that made it good (e.g., “You offered a clear, demonstrable argument and used a wide range of evidence”).
- Feedback should be constructive. Tell students what they did well and what needs improvement. That way, they’ll know what to do in the future.
- Feedback should be actionable. Tell students what they should do differently next time (e.g., “Explain your methodology in greater detail, including how you selected your sample”).
- Feedback should be timely. Try to give students feedback while the task is still fresh in their minds; otherwise, it will lose its meaning and usefulness. You should grade and return student work fairly quickly.
Use fair grading policies.
Grading can create complicated issues. To ensure that you respond to these issues appropriately, be sure to do the following:
- Follow course policies. Establish, communicate, and follow course (and institutional) policies governing late submissions, requests for regrading, cases of cheating and plagiarism, requests for special consideration, and the like. Make these policies clear to your students.
- Keep good records. Keep complete, detailed records of everything relevant to your students’ final grades, including (but not limited to) attendance, participation, and scores on assignments, exams, and quizzes. Also save student e-mails.
- Know your role. How will you handle complex issues such as requests for extensions or suspected cheating? Find out what your institution does and doesn’t want you to do in such cases and act accordingly.
- Maintain student confidentiality. By law, student information is private. Don’t discuss student performance outside the instructional team, keep student records in a secure place, and check your institution’s FERPA policies.
Students want to see that you take them and their work seriously. They’ll need motivation, constructive criticism, and guidance. If you post policies and grading criteria at the beginning of your course, you’ll be able to grade consistently and handle issues more easily if they arise. In addition, providing focused, timely feedback will help students understand their individual progress in the course and motivate them to persist. Although grading and feedback can require a great deal of your time, they’re invaluable parts of your students’ educational experience, so it’s in both of your interests to make the process fair and effective.