Friday, October 22, 2010

Hangover Friday Thirsty

I am grading final papers right now. Every time I go back and forth on how much feedback to give. I gave a lot of feedback on the rough drafts that most students ignored. Yet it seems weird to just write, "Good job, bad job, cite your sources."

Question: How much feedback do you give on final papers? Is it better to give a lot of feedback on a rough draft, which by it's nature is incomplete? Or on the final draft, which is a finished product -- but which most students won't be able to improve anyway?


  1. I use a rubric for both draft (which I tell students to make as good as they can) and final versions, put a lot of effort into comments (marginal and on the rubric) on the drafts, and fill out the rubric with a few brief comments at most for the final versions. Theoretically, they could apply my comments on the final version to later assignments (in my class or another one), but, given most students' records on applying my comments on the draft to the final version (in the majority of cases, abysmal to mediocre), that seems unlikely. I'm always happy to meet with a student to give further feedback on a final version if he/she asks. Sadly, such meetings usually turn out to be grade challenges in the making, and the only real content is me justifying the grade.

  2. In most of my classes (freshman comp and up), I don't collect drafts, so I wind up giving more commentary than I otherwise might when I get the final copy in. I allow (and encourage) revisions and many of the papers build on each other, so giving a good amount of feedback is useful in that sense. In the classes where I do collect drafts (developmental/-esque courses), I give fairly general feedback about structure and purpose and a bit less feedback on the final copy.

  3. Commenting on final papers is a waste of time. Or, rather, more of a waste of time than marking up rough drafts. The vast majority of students won't look at the comments anyway. They just look at the grade.

    I don't give back their final papers, which are due during finals week. They can come get them the next semester, but they almost never do. And if they do, I tell them that there are no comments on the paper, just a grade, and that if they want comments I will discuss the paper with them in my office.

    With rough drafts, I feel the obligation to offer a lot of feedback, and if they don't read it and do poorly they can only blame themselves. But final drafts are final, and the grade won't change. Spending an hour scribbling on a piece of work that will only end up in the recycling bin is lunacy.

    In the long-ago past, when I still occasionally received a paper that was typewritten, students might want it back because they didn't have their own copy, and they wanted to save their old papers. But of course that doesn't happen anymore.

    I have moved to this system because it's good for everyone. Students like the extra time. I like not having carpel tunnel syndrome. and I appreciate not having to deal with a sea of curdled faces pointing at their grades and bitching, when they haven't even looked at one comment.

    They are still entitled to retrieve their papers. They are still entitled to comments. This merely does an end-run around a great deal of unpleasantness.

  4. I used to give a lot more comments than I do now. A couple of semesters ago, I had a heart-to-heart with a class who were keen to learn and generally doing well, and they said that they wanted a couple of sentences at the end and maybe a checkmark or two in the body of the essay. So since then, that's what I do.
    I also have a firm policy that late work gets no comments, which is such a boon because it saves time, and late essays are generally from the suckier students.
    I tell students that work that is up to 3 days late (or the next class, whatever works), will forfeit comments and the right to argue their grade. Keeners hand in on time, OF COURSE.

  5. On a final draft, the comments serve as justification for the grade. Students tend to be unhappy with their grades, and especially for the first paper of the semester (freshman comp and remedial writing here), their expectations are typically high, so I take time to point out the paper's biggest weakness. If there are several factors that contributed to a grade that I know will upset the student, I point those out as well. If I've already commented on an earlier draft, I go back and see whether or not they worked with those comments--if not, I simply note that "comments on previous draft are still valid."

    I mostly work with a combination of marginal comments and end comments , and I often use the end comment to tell the student what s/he should focus on if s/he is planning to revise the paper. If the final draft is a total disaster, I restrict myself to a sentence or two to justify the F and invite the student to a brief conference to go over the essay together. They rarely take me up on it.

  6. I give lots of feedback on drafts. It often does not go over well: Gen Y is noted for their inability to handle criticism, since their parents so carefully shielded them from it all their lives.

    I give lots of feedback on final papers, too. This can be handy if a student tries to appeal the grade. And who knows, maybe they will learn something: I observe that a few percent of them do.

    The term papers for my big, gen-ed intro-astronomy-for-non-majors class are research papers, of course. I repeatedly tell them that this isn't supposed to be an opinion piece: it’s supposed to be a scientific paper, and most (but never all) of them get it. I tell them they're allowed to express opinions, but only to the extent that they can support them with evidence, and a few of them do, very well. Many others write papers that don't say anything original, or critically analyze anything, but that's OK with me: while I'm delighted whenever they do have something new to say, and argue it well, my main objective here is to get them acquainted with the skill of reporting. I hate it whenever I get a lab report that reads, "I felt good about this..."

    The term papers are due during the last day of class, in order to give students the maximum time possible to write them. So, how do I return them to students, so they can read the feedback I write on them? During the two weeks before the end of the semester, I ask students repeatedly at the beginning of each class to e-mail me their postal mail addresses, so I can return their papers to them through the postal mail. They often act quite surprised by this, since they rarely have ever received anything in their postal mail that wasn't advertising. But people tend not to be in a hurry after final exams, and postal mail is cheap enough to afford even in a financial crisis, and not much more work than reading and grading the 100 papers themselves: it works. Typically, about 1/3 of the students send me their postal mail addresses.

  7. I give lots of feedback, which I know will probably go unread. But I do it in case there is a complaint about a grade brought to my boss.

  8. I teach remedial writing, and I don't do drafts. I use red pen, simply mark errors in the text with symbols that I've told the students about, and then I do a few lines of comment on the back, with the grade.

    There is NO way I'm going to write a fucking novel on their exam. I simply tell them how they did well, then how they fucked up, and that's about it.

  9. Bleah: 2 margin comments, a 3-4 sentence summary at the end, and they get their paper back when they hand in their final exam (I do not comment on these). I used to comment on final papers and then they'd never pick them up -- at least now they have the things shoved into their hands.

  10. I don't do drafts, but on all essays (including the final one), I provide comments. In red, of course.

    And... why do I waste time with marking up the final papers that only 10% might ever come 'n get? Easy: I'm doing it to figure out the correct grade and to document why I gave them what they got. Also, I've had folks get papers months after the fact and there's no way I'd remember enough to explain why they got a 'B' or lower.

    I've never had a grade appeal, but I'd rather take a few extra minutes and provide that self-documentation.


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