Returning Student’s Assignment is a Learning Opportunity

Students can put hours, days or weeks into preparing and writing assignments. Waiting for the teacher to mark the assignment and anticipating the grade is a source of stress for students. Returning the assignment can also be a learning point for both the students and the instructor.

I create a simple one-page mark sheet for almost all assignments. The exception is research papers, which require meticulous comments and suggestions in addition to marking sheets.

All mark sheets are based on the assignment specifications, which are outlined on the assignment sheet and, at a higher level, in the course syllabus. The mark sheets are easy to fill out and also easy for the students to quickly read.

The mark sheet is designed with plenty of white space so I can comment and offer suggestions in addition to comments on the actual assignment.

Sometimes, if I have an exceptionally well-written assignment, I will ask the student if I can read excerpts of the paper to the class. This allows all students to learn from their peers.

This can make some students feel insecure or lose confidence if their paper isn’t chosen. How this process is introduced to the class is paramount. I only do this after working with the class for a few weeks because by then I have built a rapport with the students.

I always invite students to either meet with me after class or in my office to discuss their assignment. Some students want additional feedback or clarification of the topic but are too shy to ask questions in front of other students. I try to show as many examples, mostly from the “real world,” to illustrate the topic.

It’s extremely important to give positive feedback in addition to constructive criticism to students. It’s much easier to show students where we have found fault in assignment than to praise them for getting even a small part of an assignment right.

Writing, “Well done!” or “”Excellent detail” directly on a student’s paper helps students build their self-confidence and motivates them to receive additional praise.

Only after returning assignments to the class do I make general comments, such as, “I noticed that many of you had a problem is XYZ in the assignment. Why is that?” When I ask for this type of feedback I’m trying to find a better way to teach XYZ to students in future classes. I also want to fill in their knowledge gap in this class. I will also make adjustments to future assignments so students have an opportunity to demonstrate that they understand the topic.

Finally, I ask for general feedback about the assignment. What difficulties did they have and what are their suggestions for improving both the assignment and the mark sheet?

I never ask for feedback when I’m standing behind the lectern or beside the PowerPoint screen. Students may see me as an authority figure, which some students do not want to oppose. I’ll sit on the edge of a desk in a relaxed pose and open up a free discussion.

Their feedback helps me become a better curriculum designer and also helps my students grasp complex material in a non-intimidating atmosphere of mutual learning and understanding.

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