Grading and Feedback

Save Time and Boost Learning with a Teaching Toolbox

Feedback on performance has proven to be one of the most important influences on learning, but students consistently report that they want and need far more feedback than they get from their instructors (Hattie & Zierer, 2019). One of the main reasons for this relates

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Avoiding Common Feedback Mistakes

Feedback has been proven to be one of the most important factors to student success (Hattie, 2009). Unfortunately, students are starved for feedback from their instructors (Purdue Global, 2013). Graduate programs focus on teaching their students how to publish, lecture, and grade but not how

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How to Read Plagiarism Detection Reports

Plagiarism detection reports from companies such as Turnitin are the primary way that faculty identify cheating on written work. But my experience in working with hundreds of faculty has shown me that most misread these reports because they have not received proper instruction on how

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Don’t Water Down Feedback to Your Students

I recently had an instructor ask whether the feedback he was about to provide to a student was too harsh. He said the student’s writing was a mess and that there was no way that the student would make it through their program without writing

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online learning - formative assessment

Formative Assessment Techniques for Online Learning

While most faculty think of assessments as used to measure learning after the fact, formative assessment classroom techniques (FACTs) give an instructor a snapshot of where students are in their learning so as to address any gaps in their understanding. Online instructors have a variety

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assessing online student learning

Teaching through Assessment

There is an unfortunate tendency among higher education publications to measure the quality of online education by surveying faculty on whether they think online education is as good as face-to-face learning. But do these surveys ask whether the faculty answering have actually taught an online

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grading and feedback

A Grade Nudge

A lot of students are terribly optimistic about the grade they’ll be getting in a course. They start out imagining that they’re going to do very well, especially if they’ve decided it’s an easy course. And when they miss an early assignment or get a

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Assessing Student Contributions in Online Group Work

Assessing Student Contributions in Online Group Work

Working well collaboratively is an important skill to teach, but simply putting students together in groups and asking them to work together online doesn’t necessarily result in learning. A good way to ensure learning is to provide a rubric to help students understand what is

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Feedback on performance has proven to be one of the most important influences on learning, but students consistently report that they want and need far more feedback than they get from their instructors (Hattie & Zierer, 2019). One of the main reasons for this relates to the distinction between feed back and feed forward. The former provides information on past performance (Wiggins, 2012); the latter tells students what they need to know or do differently to improve future performance.

For example, feed back is telling a student that they misunderstood the distinction between medical paternalism and patient autonomy in their last essay. Feed forward is actually explaining the distinction, not leaving the student to figure it out themselves.

Sometimes students need more than just information—they need to know what they should do to improve their performance. Often problems in product result from problems in process. Maybe a student does not know how to study or how to organize an essay. They need to know what behaviors to adopt to do better next time.

Of course, nearly all institutions have a repository of material on topics like study skills and time management, as well as tutors. Directing a student to these resources is important. But an instructor often has process information related to their field that is not found in general institutional resources, and students can reap tremendous benefits when we share it with them, in terms of both knowledge and motivation.

As an undergraduate, I was terrible at speaking in my Italian class until an instructor told me that instead of holding back because I was afraid of making a mistake, I should deliberately ham it up to sound like I was trying to parody an Italian movie. I even started making a joke out of my mistakes by saying things like “Sono molto stupido” and slapping my hand to crack up the class. As if by magic, my fear disappeared and my pronunciation improved. Again, this was guidance not found in my Italian textbook or class content, but it transformed my learning. Instructors should spend time reflecting on the inside information they use in their field to identify opportunities for sharing it with their students.

The toolbox

At this point many instructors say they don’t have time to provide this much information on a student’s work. But there is a simple shortcut for providing more feedback in less time—what I call the teaching toolbox. Instructors will find common mistakes in going over student work, such as repeated examples of students getting a concept wrong. The instructor can write out a detailed explanation of the concept the first time, then save that explanation in a document for reuse with other students who get it wrong. This allows instructors to provide needed feed forward with a simple copy and paste.

When setting up a teaching toolbox, I like to use a Word doc divided into conceptual and writing entries. These are my level-one headings. I then split these into additional levels by topic, week, assignment, and so on, depending on the course. The writing entries contain explanations of common writing errors, such as confusing affect with effect. The conceptual entries explain concepts that students commonly miss, such as the distinction between medical paternalism and patient autonomy. I also include links to external resources when helpful.

The nice thing about this method is that as I reuse entries, I tend to see areas where I can provide more detail or add resources. In this way, the teaching toolbox grows the more I teach the class, providing more and better information with each iteration.

One word of caution: avoid using the toolbox as a crutch to avoid personalizing feedback. I have seen faculty who basically copy and paste the same feedback into each student’s work, sometimes moving so quickly that they end up giving feedback that does not even pertain to the work.

The secret to avoiding formulaic feedback is to remember the feed back–feed forward distinction. The teaching toolbox is not suitable for feed back. Each student’s work is unique, so feed back should reflect that. The instructor should reference the student’s particular text to point out an issue. It is obvious when an instructor uses boilerplate with students because it is so general that it does not speak to the particular issue.

By contrast, the teaching toolbox is exceptionally useful for feed forward. Explanations of concepts are general and so can be the same wherever they’re needed. Similarly, the instructor can share ready-made process advice with students who have trouble on that front. Even if this information isn’t bespoke, sharing it can build a personal connection with the student that will improve their motivation—and likely the instructor’s student evaluations as well.


Hattie, J., & Zierer, K. (2019). Visible learning insights. Routledge.

Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership, 70(1).