The Online Educator’s Complete Guide to Grading Assignments, Part 2

On Tuesday, I provided general suggestions on course-based grading expectations practices. Here I share some ideas for grading specific assignments.

Use a bank of comments that are precise, detailed, and clear. The smart online educator is the one who has a bank of comments from which he/she can draw on to give students feedback on any number of items in the course. But there are two important items here that will make these precast comments most effective: 1) Have comments point out not only when something is wrong but also why it is wrong and how to get it right. In this manner, each comment becomes a mini teacher’s aide in the assignment. 2) Adjust (personalize) any comment as is necessary when your comment as written does not exactly match the problem you see in the student’s assignment. This way each comment is a perfect fit for the error, allowing the student to learn more fully.

Do not point out each error a student makes. While students look to you for feedback that will help them improve, this is college, and thus more responsibility falls on the student than in a high school course. Therefore, unless you come across an error in an assignment that you believe is grievous, unusual, or complex enough that a previous comment should be posted again, only point out each new problem once. The following can help encourage students to use their own efforts to hunt out other similar problems that may occur in their assignment: 1) In your overall comment—at the end of the assignment—write something like this: “NOTE: To help you when additional errors have occurred but I have not noted them, I have inserted a + sign at the end of a comment if that error occurs more than once in your essay.” [b] Be sure to insert the + sign at the end of any error if that error has popped up more than once.

No matter the course, be sure you indicate any proofreading errors. Proofreading has nothing to do with knowing how to write. Rather, errors are an indication that the student has rushed through the assignment. This is a habit that must be nipped immediately, as it can prove to be disastrous in many ways outside of school: in a resume, contract proposal, executive summary, report, etc. I take off major points for proofreading errors, and I include in poor proofreading not incorporating any of my draft comments into a final copy of the assignment.

Always point out at least a few positives in various portions of the student’s assignment and in the overall comment. No one likes to read negative after negative after negative. It can be very discouraging. So let the student know a few instances where he or she has gotten it right—or nearly right. This helps take the sting out of an assignment that is loaded with errors, and can serve as a motivator that tells the student he/she does understand and is going in the right direction at times. And carry this through in the overall comment, at the end of the assignment: Be motivational, tell the student to build on your comments, give one major plus comment, and always let the student know you are available for any questions he/she might have.

Errol Craig Sull has been teaching online courses for 17 years and has a national reputation in the subject, and in writing about and conducting workshops on distance learning. He is currently putting the finishing touches on two online-teaching books.

Excerpted from Teaching Online with Errol: The Online Educator’s Complete Guide to Grading Assignments. Online Classroom (April 2011): 6,8.