If you have a lot of students, then you can spend nearly all of your time on student feedback. Here are a four policies designed to make my feedback workflow more sustainable.
1. Types of Feedback
Many students seem to want me to read their draft in advance of the deadline to find out what grade they will receive. In short, these students are implicitly asking me to grade two papers instead of one.
Instead of taking part in such bizarre pre-grading exercises, I offer students a few opportunities for feedback. I will, in-person
- answer specific questions about the course material.
- comment on an outline of a student’s paper.
- comment on the crucial paragraph/section of their paper — e.g., their objection to so-and-so’s argument.
But I will not pre-grade their papers. I wouldn’t offer to do that for a student unless I could feasible extend the offer to all students. And I cannot do that.
2. Grading With Shorthand
Over the years, I’ve found that almost every student needs just a few kinds of feedback. But I sometimes have lots of students. So I’ve stopped writing out the same few paragraphs of feedback on every single paper. Instead, I use shorthand to represent the common feedback that students need. In the rare cases in which a paper demands unique feedback, I will write it out.
As I discuss here, shorthand method helps me “grade papers quickly, consistently, and constructively”. I just leave a few marks on each paper and then calculate the grade. And I include a key to my shorthand when I return each paper to its author. That way, the students who want detailed feedback can easily find it.
3. Cool Down Period
Some students get upset upon discovering their grade on a particular assignment. And, like anyone, students are not particularly receptive to feedback when they are angry. So — following the policy of a mentor — I usually invoke a 48-hour cool-down period which starts when students receive their papers. That is, students have to wait 48 hours before meeting with me to discuss their papers. The hope is that by explicitly mentioning the cool-down policy, I am acknowledging the fact that grades can be upsetting and I am reassuring students that they will have an opportunity to discuss the assignment with me.
My sense is that this policy has prevented some unfruitful meetings with students.
Prior to instituting this policy, post-assignment meetings were noticeably more tense. One student was so angry about their grade that they came to my office immediately after receiving their assignment. They asked for a justification of every point they lost on their paper and yelled at me every time I started talking — to the point where colleagues were huddled outside my office door throughout the meeting. After the following class, the student pulled me aside to tell me how embarrassed they were about the way they reacted to their grade. I told them that their feelings were understandable and that I was happy to continue meeting with them to discuss their coursework. We met a few more times that semester and once more since. I found the subsequent meetings to be friendly and edifying.
Since instituting the cool-down policy, I have not had any negative experiences discussing students’ grades.
4. Email Policy
Generally, I don’t give feedback to students via email. And I don’t have conversations via email. In fact, barring extenuating circumstances, I try to convert all student emails to in-person interactions before/during/after class, during office hours, or (when necessary) by appointment.
In case you missed it, I have more email policies here: “5 Email Workflow Policies“.
Exceptions — e.g., mentoring
Ultimately, I want to support students in their attempts to think/write clearly, cogently, and concisely. Thinking and writing this way takes a lot of practice and time — certainly more than one meeting about a single paper. In fact, it only happens over the course of many student meetings. So sometimes these meetings continue beyond the duration of their course or a their tenure at the university.
So when students seek that kind of feedback, I (gladly) go to greater lengths. For instance, if they’re fine-tuning a paper that we’ve been discussing for a while, then it might be time for me to read an entire draft of their paper. And if they’ve graduated and/or moved away, then I might have to give my feedback via email.
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