Home » Higher Education » Reviewing Student Work: Teachable Moments

Reviewing Student Work: Teachable Moments

Reviewing graded work with students is not an easy task. This typically happens when a student wants to contest the mark, complain about the Teaching Assistant or about my assessment. Some students come in and they really want to learn from the assignment and do better the next time. Other students want to have an opportunity to complain. They merely want someone to listen to them. To be heard. I do not blame them–we all want someone to listen to us. It’s like Festivus–the airing of the grievances.

Educators need to remember that for so many of the students coming to office hours to chat with you is hard. Most students are a little nervous to come into the office and it’s best to immediately explain what the process is with the review. The student needs to know that you might lower or raise the grade. The student needs to know that they might have the option to revise and resubmit or contest the grade. The process will vary in different departments or different campuses.

All of this said, what I will do is re-grade the work and then review the graded work line by line or paragraph or by paragraph so that the student has a complete understanding of the grade. I also refer to the university grading system, so that the student understands that I am referring to the standards outlined by the institution. This is actually important as I feel it allows the student to understand that the grade is not personal–it is about the work and the guidelines for the assignment. This is also the appropriate time to review the assignment with the student.

Likewise, during the meeting in my office, I will allow the student to share her or his thoughts. This is the time to listen and to then respond as needed. I always end noting that the grade reflects the assessment of the assignment and not a judgement about the student as a person. I do think it’s important to add this last part, as many students really do think that the grade represents them and their effort. It does not.

Now, the last point that I want to speak to is effort and grade. I am hearing more students discuss how the grade does not reflect the effort that they put into the assignment. I listen to their explanation and think: I deserve to be paid more, but I am not. Effort does not entitlement to a better or strong grade. Some students will spend lots of time (revisions, office hour visits) and earn a B. Others will cram and pull an all nighter and earn an A-. It is not fair, but it happens. In my classes, the papers need to offer coherent analysis and follow directions. The assignment stipulates all the guidelines and some will not do well solely because they waited until the last minute or did not follow directions. Other papers will earn a weak grade due to the poor organization and writing.   Effort does not equal a strong grade.

Now there will be times when you review student work and you think that you might have been too hard. If so, admit it and raise the mark. My dad used to tell me, “I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, nobody is perfect.” He’s right. Sometimes we make mistakes or are too harsh with a mark. Re-assess the work and move on. Explain why you are revising the mark and change the grade while the student is in your office, so that you don’t forget. Have fun grading and reviewing graded work!

5 thoughts on “Reviewing Student Work: Teachable Moments

  1. In China, professors tend to set the bar very low and give everybody excellent grades to avoid trouble from all sides. One of my final examinations, for example, in Peking University, was, just one question: “What have you learned on this course?”. The professor even told us the exam question three days in advance.

    As a teacher, I preferred giving low grades because this motivates Chinese students (whereas high grades make them complacent). My other alma mater, the University of Cambridge, is well-renowned for this (70% there is considered ‘excellent’).

    You’re absolutely right that the grade doesn’t reflect the student as a person. But I think many students fail to grasp that. They will call themselves “stupid” rather than “addicted to TV” (or whatever the real reason is for their unsatisfactory homework).

    I firmly believe in discussing homework with students 1-on-1. It’s far more valuable than a simplistic one-letter grade. Only a 1-on-1 discussion allow you to proofread together, to talk about the class content, and to talk about their lives in general, which (I have found) set the tone for homework performance more than anything else.

    P.S. I teach in a private high school, but university students need this too (and it isn’t done!)

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. I teach lots of students each year, but I do take special care to offer them opportunities for early feedback via paper proposals and lots of office hour consultations. I understand what you mean.

      Interesting points about international education…food for thought.


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