Using comments when grading

Write comments to accompany grades only if learning is likely to result

Not all work needs a grade or comment (e.g., a simple test, a piece of work from a larger project, portfolio, etc.). Comments on drafts, work in progress, or work that could be revised and improved are useful if the comments give guided feedback to your students. You might want to involve your students in the grading process to help you transform comments into teachable moments: Are the comments useful, and in what way? In the end, make sure students’ work remains theirs, not yours.

Comments can be a way to communicate with your students

You may be able to establish a mentor relationship with each one of them through your written remarks. (You might, for example, save the comments you write for each student to personalize your grading.)

Deal with global issues before local ones

Use your feedback to draw students' attention first to global issues (related to overall content and organization of the assignment they submitted). Make sure comments and corrections on local issues (e.g., spelling, grammar, writing style, etc.) do not become students' main focus before the global issues are resolved. This advice is especially true in multi-draft writing assignments.

For comments on writing, be specific

Do not write “awkward” or “awk.” It does not provide students with a sense of what the issue is.

Include positive feedback, no matter how flawed the paper

Students not only need feedback on what you don't understand, they also require feedback on what you do understand. If the thesis statement was clear but the support argument was weak, describe this. If the thesis statement was unclear, try to describe what you think the student is trying to say. This will help the student in revising the paper.

Do not use comments to vent frustration at students.

Evaluating papers that are particularly unclear and/or disorganized can be frustrating. You may come across papers that are extremely informal and/or do not follow basic principles of grammar and sentence structure. In these instances, avoid negative global comments (e.g., “This paper was unintelligible” or “You will not pass the course writing at this level”). Rather, you should invite the student to your office hour. Encourage such students to visit the Penn State Undergraduate Writing Center Opens in new window for help with grammar and sentence structure, and provide guidance on the paper's ideas/content. The goal is not to admonish students for poor writing but to help them improve.

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