Tip: Require & offer points for "Improvement"
One change in how I provide feedback has made grading papers more efficient & effective.
While there are many benefits to incorporating more writing tasks into our courses, a major drawback is that grading essays takes a lot longer than grading multiple choice exams. There are ways to make responding to student work more efficient, however. Developing good rubrics that will guide students to better understand what you’re asking for - and guide your assessment of what they’ve produced - is a good first step. (Here’s a place to start for a general overview of different types of rubrics.)
Beyond developing rubrics, the one change in how I provide feedback to students that has had the most impact is a simple one: I provide more extensive feedback on the first draft, and include a criteria on my rubric for the final draft that the student attended to the feedback provided (below) - called “Improvement from 1st Draft.”
This has solved several problems for me:
Students pay attention to feedback. They all know - because it is explicitly articulated and is a significant part of the grading scheme ( in the example above, 20%) of the final paper - that they have to read and respond to the feedback I provide. If they ignore it all and submit the same paper again (it happens), their maximum possible score is an 80%. They can choose to do this - I understand that sometimes students have to make hard choices about what work to prioritize. But typically I find that even students with very strong first drafts, whose unrevised second draft would still earn a passing score, will make more of an effort because “improvement” is tied to points they can earn.
Students can’t cheat as easily. By requiring students to revise according to my feedback, it’s much harder for them to not put in the work themselves. They might have been able to buy a paper online or “borrow” one from a friend in another class for the first draft, but now they have to actually engage with the ideas and the writing in their paper to improve both.
Grading final versions is much faster and easier. I pull up their draft #1, with my original rubric, and the final version, and do a side-by-side comparison. Because my rubrics are the same - with the exception of the “improvement” criteria - I can quickly identify whether their thesis is better, the same, or worse, and score accordingly. I only provide written feedback on the final version to explain if their score has gone down. Particularly at the end of the semester, when I often have final term papers plus all the “please grade this paper I didn’t turn in on time” requests, this is a huge benefit.
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