Sunday, February 25, 2018

Teach 180: Specific Student Feedback (Day 111)

If you ever ask a teacher what they dislike the most about their job, it is likely that they will say grading.  It never seems to end and when I taught in the public school, I could easily spend 10 hours a week or more grading tests, quizzes and problem solving tasks.  One of the purposes of grading should be to provide students with feedback.  I am not just talking about a percentage or number correct.  I am talking about enough feedback that the student can understand where he or she fell short and how to improve.

Feedback on assessments is usually quick, things like "be careful of your signs" or "don't forget the Such-and-Such property".  In my mind the feedback is clear.  But perhaps it isn't as clear as I think.  Today a student came back and asked me about the following feedback I gave on his Calculus quiz.

He was wondering what my feedback was showing.  What did he do wrong?  Had he not asked me about it, my feedback to him would have been meaningless.  Would writing sentences like these have helped?  "If you don't have the parentheses, only the 4 is multiplied by 10ex.  You need the parentheses, because we want the entire denominator to be multiplied by the derivative of the numerator."  Maybe it would have been helpful. Or maybe not.  It would certainly take me about 10 times longer to write that than what I wrote.

So, how can I get students to understand my feedback and not use up the ink of a dozen pens?  Would giving the students a copy of the answer key help?  Perhaps.  But I am guessing most students would see that their answer to a question as wrong, but not fully understand why.  Would doing test or quiz corrections help?  Perhaps.  But that leads to more grading for me.  Would having students consult with their neighbor about quiz or test errors work?  Maybe.  But student grades should be private. 

So, what is the answer to providing more specific student feedback AND not drowning in red ink?  I am hoping to find the answer to this in the new book I starting to read "Grading Smarter, Not Harder" by Myron Dueck.  Any ideas I try, I'll be sure to share them in my blog.


  1. I’ve been experimenting with providing detailed solution guides to assessments to show as precisely as possible what the expectations were for earning points. It helps to do models of this on non-graded assignments beforehand, so students get used to the expectations. Students learn to write their own feedback; I assist and review. I also sometimes hand papers back (after creating a scanned copy of each) with just the answers (no point values) so students can focus entirely on writing feedback.

  2. I want whatever new systems I create to be valuable to the student and manageable to me. What you have described seems like it would work. I look forward to learning more.