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Feedback and Grading: Giving Feedback


Grading, evaluating, and providing feedback

Purpose of grading

When assignments are graded two sorts of information are generated: how well students understand course material, and how effective instruction has been.  Both types of information support adjustments in practice.  Students have the chance to try new study strategies if needed, and faculty members can adjust their instruction if necessary. Once grading is complete, students need feedback on their achievements.  The quality and nature of the feedback determine how effectively students are able to respond.

Value of feedback

The most effective feedback is timely and clearly articulated. Students are highly interested in feedback shortly after an assessment, and their interest falls off as time passes and the course content moves on.  An interesting exercise is to talk with students about what the marks on their papers, tests, assignments or projects mean to them.  The intent of the instructor and the meaning made by the student are often far different.  New faculty members must be thoughtful about the nature of their feedback and build in time to effectively respond to student work in order to maximize the impact of the instructor response.

Adapted from "Grading, evaluating, and providing feedback" CDIP Community Commons by Dr. Robin D. Marion, and made available under a CC BY-NC-SA license


Giving effective feedback

Prioritize your ideas. Limit your feedback to the most important issues. Consider the feedback’s potential value to the receiver and how you would respond – could you act on the feedback? As well, too much feedback provided at a single time can be overwhelming to the recipient.

  • Concentrate on the behaviour, not the person. One strategy is to open by stating the behaviour in question, then describing how you feel about it, and ending with what you want. This model enables you to avoid sounding accusatory by using “I” and focusing on behaviours, instead of assumed interpretations. Example: “I haven’t seen you in class in for a week. I’m worried that you are missing important information. Can we meet soon to discuss it?”
    Instead of: “You obviously don’t care about this course!”
  • Balance the content. Use the “sandwich approach.” Begin by providing comments on specific strengths. This provides reinforcement and identifies the things the recipient should keep doing. Then identify specific areas of improvement and ways to make changes. Conclude with a positive comment. This model helps to bolster confidence and keep the weak areas in perspective. Example: “Your presentation was great. You made good eye contact, and were well prepared. You were a little hard to hear at the back of the room, but with some practice you can overcome this. Keep up the good work!” Instead of: “You didn’t speak loudly enough. However, the presentation went well.”
  • Be specific. Avoid general comments that may be of limited use to the receiver. Try to include examples to illustrate your statement. As well, offering alternatives rather than just giving advice allows the receiver to decide what to do with your feedback.
  • Be realistic. Feedback should focus on what can be changed. It is useless and frustrating for recipients to get comments on something over which they have no control. Also, remember to avoid using the words “always” and “never.” People’s behaviour is rarely that consistent.
  • Own the feedback. When offering evaluative comments, use the pronoun “I” rather than “they” or “one,” which would imply that your opinion is universally agreed on. Remember that feedback is merely your opinion.
  • Be timely. Seek an appropriate time to communicate your feedback. Being prompt is key since feedback loses its impact if delayed too long. Delayed feedback can also cause feelings of guilt and resentment in the recipient if the opportunity for improvement has passed. As well, if your feedback is primarily negative, take time to prepare what you will say or write.
  • Offer continuing support. Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. After offering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up. Let recipients know you are available if they have questions, and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.

Adapted from Receiving and giving effective feedback. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo, CC BY-NC


Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas the Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

Frisbie, David A., and Kristie K. Waltman. "Developing a personal grading plan." Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice 11, no. 3 (1992): 35-42.

Reynolds, Laura. "Giving student feedback: 20 tips to do it right." InformEd, June 11, 2013.

Walvoord, Barbara E. Fassler, and Virginia Johnson Anderson. Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010.


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