Efficient and Effective Ways to Provide Feedback on Written Work

1. Intentionality is key to providing feedback efficiently.

Before you create course assignments and exam questions, decide what is most important to you about that exercise, and then determine the criteria that you will use to assess student work both in exams and in course assignments.  You don’t need to teach (and evaluate) every writing skill in every piece of written work.

2. Create rubrics.

Rubrics should clearly define the criteria that you will use to assess student work. These rubrics will help to focus your feedback and assessment on the areas that are most important to you.

3. Share these rubrics with students.

Include your rubrics in the assignment description and in the directions for exams. Students then know ahead of time what you are looking for and what you consider to be important.

4. Comments are valuable feedback, but more is not always better.

When you see the same errors in a written assignment or answer to an exam question (e.g., transitions, paragraph coherence, logic errors), it is sufficient to comment once or twice and then also note that the same errors occur elsewhere in the assignment/exam response.

5. You do not need to mark up an entire paper if you are seeing the same sentence-level (mechanical) errors repeated throughout.

Instead, you can mark up one paragraph to note the errors efficiently while not sacrificing the feedback that you want to share. Again, comment that similar errors occur elsewhere.

6. Respond to the assignment or exam question as a reader rather than as a “corrector” and avoid cryptic margin comments.

This shift in your commenting style can help students better understand the problems and see ways to address them.   For example, you might write “I don’t see the connection you are making between __ and __”; “I’m not finding the support for your opinion”; “Is there a way to connect this to ____?”; or “This would be a good place to reference ____’s theory on ___.”   Statements such as “You need more detail or analysis” may not help the student understand what the problem is or how to fix it.

7. Teach your students your feedback vocabulary.

For example, if you explain to students in advance what these terms mean, quick notes such as “transitions,” “passive voice,” “citation,” “repetitive,” etc., can come to represent a longer statement, such as “the transition between these two thoughts is unclear.”

8. Not all written assignments need to be evaluated in the same way and with the same goal in mind.

You can provide feedback comments on some coursework without grading it, or you can focus on specific areas for feedback in a given assignment.

9. Provide students with an opportunity for self-reflection.

For example, after providing feedback on a written assignment or exam question, hand out index cards and ask students to share what they would do differently the next time. Not only does this process support meta-cognitive development, but it can also enhance students’ writing skills.

10. Let students provide some of the feedback.

Have students respond to their peers’ drafts or final products, either in a more general way (“What works best in this essay?  What didn’t work as well?”) or in a more targeted way (“Underline the places where the author used credible research”; “Mark the places where the author responded to the research question”).