Skip to Content

Tales from Real Life: Making Comments Count

When I was a college student, I received a graded paper with this feedback written on the last page, “lacks cohesion, more references, thesis statement, C+.”

This was definitely not enough feedback for me to make any changes in the way I did my next paper. Having been a very good high school student, I was embarrassed to go to the instructor’s office hours to ask for clarification.

Today, as one of those instructors, I want to give students feedback that they understand and use. In my early years as an instructor, I read all the papers, made comments, and then, went back and assigned a grade. This helped me be more consistent in my grading and understand how the students actually interpreted the assignment.

After a few years, I realized that my comments were falling into a pattern. Most students did not have good transitions between sections of the paper. Many students did not clarify the thesis of their paper.

I made a list of these common errors and passed this out to the students when I returned the papers. I thought they would appreciate the details of this feedback and clear descriptions and examples I provided. Not so.

They said, “If this is what you wanted, why didn’t you give it to us before we started the paper?”

This was the birth of “surprise” feedback. Students don’t like surprises.

Then, I discovered rubrics. I reflected on what I wanted in the assignment and wrote it out in a grid format. When I gave the assignment, I gave them the rubric. Students do like rubrics.

—By Dannelle D. Stevens, Portland State University

Published in:

Published In


Thriving in Academe

  • anc_dyn_linksToo Much Time Grading Papers?
  • anc_dyn_linksTales from Real Life: Making Comments Count
  • anc_dyn_linksThe Do-It-Yourself Rubric
  • anc_dyn_linksBest Practices: Let's Hear It for Rubrics!
  • anc_dyn_linksIssues to Consider: Rubrics Work!
  • anc_dyn_linksReferences & Resources

More Issues of the Advocate

  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2010
  • anc_dyn_linksDecember 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksOctober 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksJune 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksSpecial Salary Issue 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksFebruary 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksDecember 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksOctober 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksJune 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksSpecial Salary Issue 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksFebruary 2008