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Giving Directed Feedback

The biggest grading mistake I made as a first time TA was to give the kind and amount of feedback that I, as a graduate student, wished I would have been receiving from my professors. I spent hours grading student work, sometimes handwriting twenty thorough comments on a single short essay, only to watch in horror as nearly half my students recycled their graded drafts immediately after receiving them back.

Students need to learn the value of comments and feedback, and, as grad students or professors, it can sometimes be easy to forget that. It can also be easy to forget how disheartening and overwhelming it can be to receive massive amounts of feedback, or feedback that is more appropriate for a professional journal article than a lower level college course.

Here are two rules I now adhere to in all of my grading and feedback:

1. Students should know what their grade means without my having to explain it.

For me, this means that I use a clear and detailed rubric to show them where, exactly, they lost points on the assignment, and what they can do on future drafts to make up for those shortcomings. This allows me to give more directed feedback (a specific example here or there detailing how a sentence could be improved, or what sort of argument they ought to be making), and it allows the students to make decisions about how best to spend their time in revisions.

2. I never give more than two big-picture critical comments, and four or five smaller comments.

While this might not seem like enough to a grad student who is used to getting multiple pages of feedback, I find that it is plenty for an undergrad who is still very much in the process of learning how to receive and incorporate feedback. I always encourage students to come see me for more detail regarding the comments I’ve given them, and to ask me for more feedback if they’d like, and I actually find that giving less initial feedback makes students more likely to take me up on this.

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