Friday, November 23, 2012

Precision feedback

In a recent post, I shared my experience in using voice-recognition software to enhance the quantity and quality of feedback to students on their assignments.  Here's a method for further improving the value of our feedback to students by adding a bit of precision to our grading.

It's nothing new, really.  It's using grading rubrics.  However, I’ve found a way to use rubrics as kind of grading shortcut that also ends up maximizing the learning process.

For a while, some of my online course assignments were worth a certain number of points.  If you did “A” work, you received 90% or more of the available points.  “B” work earned you 80%-89% of the available points. And so on.

But then I started getting inquiries from students

  • What can I do to improve my grade? 
  • How did I miss three points?
  • What went wrong?
  • I thought I did well.  Why did I receive a low grade.

Yikes.  I realized that a number alone wasn’t helping these students very much.  The whole point of my assignments is to improve competence in my students—but I wasn’t really doing anything but dinging them on points when their work did not meet my standards.

So I took a good look at how I expressed my expectations and found that it was pretty murky.  So I constructed a rubric for each type of assignment.

Each rubric is simply a short table that lists each expected element of the assignment and it’s point value.

I am careful to list EVERYTHING—including the “obvious” basic elements of the assignment as well as specific “enhanced features” that I’m hoping for.

I make my rubrics using the “table” format in a MS Word document.  You can use a small spreadsheet just as easily.  I simply copy and paste each type of rubric into my course documents (syllabus , webpage, etc.).  That way , my students can use them as handy guidelines as they design and execute their assignments.

For grading purposes, I keep a second version of each rubric in which I change the “Maximum points” for each element to “Points earned.” 

Then at grading time, I simply copy and paste the appropriate rubric into the feedback window for each student’s assignment.  As I evaluate the assignment, I change the maximum points listed to the actual points they earned for each element of the assignment.  I quickly total it up and change the maximum total to their actual total.

For added precision, I also keep a list of feedback responses for common mistakes.  For example, I have a short paragraph identifying a common formatting error.  This paragraph explains what went wrong, why it’s wrong, and how to do it right next time. When I encounter the error in an assignment I’m grading, I paste the paragraph into the feedback window. Then I insert, “For example, in your paragraph 5 . . . “ into the paragraph so that the student knows precisely where things went wrong in their assignment.

Whenever I encounter a particular type of mistake, I find the appropriate response in my list of “canned responses” and paste it into the feedback window.

This gives specific, precise feedback with minimal grading effort—but maximum benefit to student learning.

It takes longer to explain it than to actually do it!

Now, I can quickly and easily provide my students with more precise feedback than simply a grade.

In an upcoming post, I’ll extend this technique a bit to show how to leverage it into a bona fide teaching-learning moment!

Want to know more?

My previous article about speeding up your feedback process:

Speed up your feedback

For more about using rubrics, I recommend this book by my friend Dannelle Stevens:

Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback, and Promote Student Learning