Oct 26
What Does Good Help Look Like?

Those motivated by teaching for learning want to help students be successful learners. But sometimes the process of doing that can be tricky. At least, that's how it felt recently to us. We have both been giving some thought to the amount of advance feedback we give to students on work that will be graded. We are feeling a bit confused about responsibilities and advantages.

Janine: I had a student email me his assignment to review before the deadline, but he had skipped my class that day. I decided to provide some high level feedback, but did tell him that in the future I would expect him to attend class to receive extra assistance. Is providing advance feedback a benefit to students who are done early or is it an unfair advantage? Should there be conditions to get extra support on graded work? 

Amanda: A student asked me recently to proof their resume. I'm not sure they always know what proofreading really entails (Hint: It means finding all the errors and correcting them!). Regardless, how much feedback is fair and how little is shirking my responsibilities as an instructor?

Now we're turning to our RRC network of support and asking you for input and advice: Can we sort this out together?

  • Do you offer to provide feedback on students' graded work prior to the deadline?
  • If not, why?
  • If so, is it a preliminary scan or a detailed evaluation?
  • Are there any conditions that the student has to meet in order for you to do it? (ie. actually come to class!)
  • Any other considerations? (ie. only if you have time?)

Thanks for helping us out!


Please sign in on the top right, and then add your comments to the discussion.


I find it very difficult to...

I find it very difficult to keep up with feedback to the students even on a basic level when my course load is high.  I'll be interested to see if there are any 'speed feedback' suggestions offered!  I know good things take time, but when time is in short supply my students suffer from lack of feedback and I feel like I'm letting them down.
Picture Placeholder: Aubrey S Doerksen
  • Aubrey S Doerksen
 on 10/26/2018 9:07 AM

I actually encourage studen...

I actually encourage students to run their work past me for a preliminary review before handing it in. My view is that if they're motivated enough to want to submit the best assignment possible, and my job is to facilitate that - and I have the time to do it - why not? Frankly, I'm surprised by the number of students who do not take advantage of my offer. I don't think it gives some students an unfair advantage because the offer is available to all.
Picture Placeholder: Harv Mock
  • Harv Mock
 on 10/26/2018 9:20 AM

I’ve always encouraged stud...

I’ve always encouraged students to start assignments early and have me look at an early draft or at least an outline. I also make it clear that I am only taking a quick look to see if they are on track or making any obvious errors and that the closer to the due date the less likely I will give more than a quick skim. I never guarantee that they will end up with an A but they can feel confident they will not fail if they accept my feedback. This has rarely been a major time issue for me since only one or two per class have ever taken me up on the offer.
Picture: Brian Harrison
  • Brian Harrison
 on 10/26/2018 9:30 AM

I'm not sure I would provid...

I'm not sure I would provide feedback if a student skipped my class. If they had a legitimate-sounding excuse, I may provide some holistic feedback (did they answer the question properly). As for editing/proofreading, I wouldn't do this prior to submission. I try to teach self-editing skills to my students. I do use error-correction symbols (with a chart and self-study resources) on their submitted assignment. In certain courses I offer to take a look at their corrected versions for further feedback (not for re-grading or additional marks) if they so choose to re-write their assignments after they've been graded. Few students take me up on this, but those who do are remembered (and are more likely to get favorable references if they ask for one after the course).
Picture Placeholder: Sherry L Seymour
  • Sherry L Seymour
 on 10/26/2018 10:33 AM

I appreciate the opportunit...

I appreciate the opportunity to brainstorm with colleagues about this potential teaching mechanism.  A few weeks ago I was sitting at home providing feedback to a student whom submitted his assignment early, and my partner comments, "well that is giving an unfair advantage to the student getting your feedback".  My initial impulse was to headbutt him and ask, "well what do you know?".  At the time I was confident that providing early feedback facilitated learning.  Both from a final product perspective, and I think it is useful for some students to overcome the intimidation factor of working collaboratively with an authority figure.  The comment planted some doubt though.  Since then, I have resolved that providing advanced feedback does not give some students an unfair advantage.  As Harv noted, if a student is motivated enough to submit early, then feedback will reinforce that behavour and increase quality of work.

Another concern I considered is whether students would demonstrate poor effort in the early submission, however, this concern has yet to be verified.  Every submission I have received exhibited full effort.  If I were to receive a below par assignment my response would be, "this assignment is not yet in the feedback stage of development".  Like Harv, I am surprised that more students do not take the opportunity. 

Thank you for your perspective Aubrey, it was something I had not considered.  Is the benefit to the student worth the professional/personal cost of spreading ourselves further?  I'll have to give that some further thought.

Here is some 'speed feedback' that I have given:

- "how does topic X discussed in class apply to this assignment?" (if something was missing);
- "are you forgetting important material from chapter x?" (again if something is missing);
- "your formatting is clear and professional.  Well done" (if praise is warranted);
- "additional research on topic x is needed" (again, if something is missing).

While I am currently confident in incorporating the practice of advanced feedback, this perspective may change if the evidence of increased work quality and student learning dissipates. 

Picture Placeholder: Lindsay Mulholland
  • Lindsay Mulholland
 on 10/26/2018 10:34 AM

I would compare proofreadin...

I would compare proofreading assignments to a form of martyrdom…you are free to do it, but accept the outcomes.

I have always offered to look at students work as they progress, especially with large assignments or research reports. Rarely, do I give “holus-bolus” specific feedback unless there is a significant component missing. If they have missed a component, I point that out. As someone previously mentioned…no guarantee of an “A+”.

Generally speaking two types of students take up the offer. The excellent student who doesn’t need it, but wants their “hand held” and the struggling student who has realized that help is available if only they would ask.

There was an iteration of assignments (2 or 3 terms) where I marked the “draft” of the assignment out of 7 and the final version out of 3 for a total of 10 marks for the assignment…I wanted learners to gain the experience of re-writing as a positive step in the final product. A useful experiment, that was ultimately not encouraged and dropped.

Picture Placeholder: Keith Penhall
  • Keith Penhall
 on 10/26/2018 12:51 PM

This is a tricky issue.  To...

This is a tricky issue.  Too much feedback and whose work are you assessing; your own or the student's?  I try to focus on process so I will give feedback at different stages of the process.  I firmly believe that we learn through trial and error so it is important not to grade/mark each part of the process or the student will get discouraged.  Instead, I give feedback throughout so that when they submit a finalized version it should show their growth.  The feedback is limited to concepts such as the way they organized their ideas, if something was missing, if they need to rethink some ideas etc.  I do not edit but discuss the piece with the student.  For something like a resume, if it is not an assignment, I give lots of editing and feedback because I want the student to gain employment.  But if it is an assignment that I am grading, I tell them "Three then me", which means they must show it to 3 of their peers before they ask my advice.  Again, I would not edit it, but give general suggestions.
Picture Placeholder: Laura Armistead
  • Laura Armistead
 on 10/26/2018 1:20 PM

Like several comments above...

Like several comments above, I encourage students to request informal feedback as often as possible. Simply said in my opinion, that is a form of 'extending' contact time out of the normal classroom and for what/why these students have paid good money for.. I personally have not let the reality of a heavy case load get in the way; that is why I have chosen to be back into f.t. teaching AFTER retirement. I also like above the reference to "three then me" - I will take that on too -- thanks Laura Armistead.
Picture Placeholder: Marc Desrosiers
  • Marc Desrosiers
 on 10/26/2018 1:31 PM

Like many of my colleagues,...

Like many of my colleagues, I offer advance feedback on assignments, and find that surprisingly few students every take me up on my offer. My comments are general--I feel as though I don't have the time to offer really detailed feedback. However, I try to give enough information so students know if they are on track, if there are major points missing, or if there is something else that would have a significant impact on their mark. My experience is also that the students that could really use the advance feedback are not the students that ask for it....
Picture Placeholder: Jayne M Geisel
  • Jayne M Geisel
 on 10/26/2018 1:52 PM

So much great input here – ...

So much great input here – thank you!

I feel the need to clarify: I DO NOT PROOFREAD OR EDIT STUDENTS' ASSIGNMENTS! They ask, but I don’t do it. It would be nuts to do that – for a variety of reasons, I totally agree :)

The general consensus here seems to be that offering global-level advance feedback is a good thing, if the instructor has the time. While it does not guarantee an excellent mark for the student, it does extend contact time between the instructor and their students beyond the classroom – and that can be an excellent thing.

I love Laura's tip "Three then me"; that's genius, and a great way to encourage some peer editing or review.  

Again, thanks to everyone for your input!
Picture Placeholder: Amanda  Le Rougetel
  • Amanda Le Rougetel
 on 10/26/2018 10:50 PM
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