professor and student discussing grade October 18

Using Rubrics as a Defense Against Grade Appeals

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Faculty dread the grade appeal; anxiety prevails until the whole process is complete. Much has been written about how to avoid such instances, but the potentially subjective assessments of written essays or clinical skills can be especially troublesome. One common cause of grade appeals is grading ambiguity in which the student and faculty member disagree on the interpretation of required content. Another cause is inequity, whereby the student feels others may have gotten more credit for very similar work or content (Hummel 2010). In the health-care field especially, these disagreements over clinical-skills assessments can actually result in student dismissal from the program and may lead to lawsuits.



Student reviews assignment. October 25, 2017

Helping Students Recognize Quality Work, Fix What Isn’t Good

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How good are your students at assessing the quality of their work? Do they understand and act on the feedback you provide? I’ll wager that some students do. But the rest—they don’t know if what they’re turning in is good, not so good, or what they were supposed to do. If you ask how an assignment turned out, most students are fearfully noncommittal. The verbally confident proclaim that it’s excellent and hope you’ll remember that when you grade it. And this inability to ascertain quality and shortcomings applies to papers, essay answers, proposed solutions to open-ended messy problems, creative performances (artistic, musical, for example), and engineering and architectural projects.


students taking test August 30, 2017

A Challenge to Current Grading Practices

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There’s a lot to be gained from considering ideas and arguments at odds with current practice. In higher education, many instructional practices are accepted and replicated with little thought. Fortunately, there are a few scholars who keep asking tough questions and challenging conventional thinking. Australian D. Royce Sadler is one of them. His views on feedback and assessment are at odds with the mainstream, but his scholarship is impeccable, well-researched, and logically coherent. His ideas merit our attention, make for rich discussion, and should motivate us to delve into the assumptions that ground current policies and practices.


close up of a computer mouse July 21, 2017

Using Screencasts for Formative and Summative Assessment

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As a new teacher, one of the resources I found most helpful in shaping my grading practices was Grant Wiggins’s advice on feedback and assessment. Meaningful feedback, he suggests, is much more than assigning a grade or even offering recommendations for improvement. Rather, meaningful feedback is descriptive, “play[ing] back” the student’s performance and connecting it to the learning outcomes of the course.


student in the library June 30, 2017

How Students Perceive Feedback

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The following conceptions of feedback were offered by a group of students studying to become physical therapists. They were asked to recall a situation during their time in higher education when they felt they’d experienced feedback. Then they were asked a series of questions about the experience and about feedback more generally: “What is feedback? How would you describe it? How do you go about getting it? How do you use it?” (p. 924) The goal of the study was to investigate students’ conceptions of feedback. Student conceptions involve underlying personal beliefs, views, and ideas, unlike student perceptions, which explore how the feedback is understood. Analysis of transcripts from the interviews reveal four conceptions of feedback held by this student group


group of students taking exam June 14, 2017

Does the Strategy Work? A Look at Exam Wrappers

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For many faculty, adding a new teaching strategy to our repertoire goes something like this. We hear about an approach or technique that sounds like a good idea. It addresses a specific instructional challenge or issue we’re having. It’s a unique fix, something new, a bit different, and best of all, it sounds workable. We can imagine ourselves doing it.



student struggling with test November 14, 2016

Teaching Students How to Manage Feedback

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The classroom is a non-stop hub of feedback: test grades, assignment scores, paper comments, peer review, individual conferences, nonverbal cues, and more. Feedback is essential for student learning.

Still, students’ ability to process and use feedback varies widely. We have some students who eagerly accept feedback or carefully apply rough draft comments, while many others dread or dismiss their professors’ notes or reject exam grades as “unfair.” Although feedback is integral to our classrooms and work spaces, we often forget to teach students how to manage it.


students writing in class March 7, 2016

Unexpected Benefits of Grading Effort and Habit

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Effort and habit are instrumental to learning and writing, but they are often dimly lit in our grading systems. That light needs to brighten with the help of new research and popular literature that highlight how essential habit, effort, and perseverance are to learning. I’ve used an effort-aware grading system in my teaching for some time now, a B-grading contract that locks hardworking students into a minimum final grade of B. For grades rising above B, the quality of the writing is the focus (the product), but only for students who fulfill the contract (the process).