Tips for Marking Less and Teaching More

Regularly checking students’ learning progress and providing specific feedback is crucial to successful learning. However, assessment can be a heavy burden for both staff and students. This blog introduces options for reducing marking time and enhancing effective feedback by leveraging formative assessment. We will suggest practical ideas that you can use in your classrooms and online learning environments.

Giving Feedback

To better understand what makes feedback effective, consider the difference between Summative Assessment and Formative Assessment.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Summative assessment:

  • Is an assessment of learning and comes in the form of an assignment, exam, or activity that counts towards the student’s final grade
  • Comes with a final grade: although students receive comments and feedback on such assignments, their grade for that assignment can no longer be changed. So the feedback they receive at this time aims to help them focus on future assessments, NOT on the current assessment

Whereas, Formative assessment:

  • Comes in the form of assignments, case studies, mock exams, and learning activities that DO NOT count towards final grades
  • Is feedback designed to help students grow and learn throughout the course
  • Is growth orientated – it invites students to take risks, try out new approaches, and focus on learning rather than final grades

From a growth mindset perspective, formative assessment is all about providing frequent opportunities for instructors to give feedback to students specific to their learning. At the same time, formative feedback offers instructors feedback on their teaching practices, allowing them to adjust and adapt the learning experience for students based on these findings: both students and instructors stand to gain from these practices. Collectively, formative assessment and feedback creates a culture that aims for continuous improvement on behalf of the student and the instructor. We like to think about formative assessment and feedback as a cyclical process where ongoing Informal gathering of data informs both the learner and the instructor. No grades are attached so that the focus can be on growth and learning instead of the final grade.

Formative Feedback is Assessment as Learning

When students engage in formative assessments and activities, their learning potential depends on the effectiveness of the feedback given to them by their instructor and peers. Research suggests that grading does not provide adequate feedback because a) students don’t read the written comment when the grade is already final or b) students do not understand how to apply the feedback given.

Effective student feedback should support and inspire students by letting them know specifically where they are, where they are heading, and how they can get there. In other words, effective feedback should make the student feel supported and inspired!

A narrow dirt path through the mossy floor of a damp rainforest. A bright sky is visible at the end of the path, past the tree line. Young ferns grow around the base of the pine trees.

Regular feedback is an essential element of assessment as learning and needs to be implemented early and consistently throughout a course. This allows students to build self-confidence by knowing how well they are doing and what they need to do to improve. These practices also support students in preparing for their next assessment task.

How do Certain Forms of Feedback Make Marking Easier?

Consider the appropriate assessment load for the course while keeping in mind that not every piece of students’ work needs attention from the instructor. Self-assessment and peer assessment are powerful formative assessment tools. The following are examples of strategies to provide additional avenues of feedback without adding to the burden of grading and marking: 

Assessing Group Assignments 

In larger classes, group assignments can be a good feedback tool that helps you manage your time around marking. If you want to collect your group assignments digitally, consider putting students who will be working on an assignment together into a group in VIULearn and then creating a Group Restricted Assignment Submission folder. Each group will share the same submission area and will be able to see any submissions that have been uploaded by other members in their group. When marking, all members of the group will receive the same score and feedback. 

Peer Assessment 

With appropriate support to learn how to give constructive feedback, you can ask students to assess their peers. Peer assessment can help you manage your feedback load while benefiting students by providing opportunities to practice engaging in a participatory culture of learning. If you discuss your expectations with the class and show them what constructive feedback looks like, peers have the chance to give and receive effective feedback with your standards in mind.

To set this up, consider splitting your students into groups and creating a Group Discussion Topic in VIULearn. We recommend splitting students into small groups (4-6) when requesting that they provide peer feedback to their classmates because: 

  1. When presented with too many assignments to provide feedback on, students can get overwhelmed. This can cause students to give very basic or surface level feedback. By limiting the number of assignments that students can see, they will be encouraged to really focus and think deeply about the feedback that they are providing. 
  2. Splitting students into groups helps ensure that every student will get feedback on their assignment. If students are not split into groups and the instructor does not provide clear guidelines, students may choose to give feedback only to the weakest or strongest students in the class and other students may not receive any feedback at all.

Students can upload their assignments to the VIULearn Discussion Topic and other members of their group can give feedback to their classmate by:

  1. Responding with their suggestions in writing.
  2. Providing them with an annotated version of their assignment as an attachment in their response.
  3. Linking or embedding a video that they have created that has them vocally and/or visually showing their classmate their feedback. (This is great method to use to add a personal touch to solely online classes)
  4. Bringing their feedback to discuss with their classmates directly during class. 

If groups are a part of your teaching, you may also want to look at using iPeer, a peer-feedback tool designed to allow groups to provide group members with anonymous feedback at scheduled points in the semester.

Technology Tools for Automated Assessment

There are many technology tools that can help you automate assessment and provide quick formative feedback, such as online multiple-choice questions (student-generated if possible!), response cards and polls using mobile devices. See the Assessment Ideas handout to learn more about some of the tools that you and your students can use to create formative assessment activities.

If you have exam questions or quizzes that you don’t give out anymore, you might consider creating and/or publishing your tests as VIULearn Self Assessments for students to use for self assessment purposes. When creating or editing your questions, use the feedback fields so that students can be provided with pre-generated feedback about their choices. 

Cohort Feedback 

Provide one set of feedback for all students rather than individual feedback  to each. To do this, review all student work submitted and make a list of common errors or places for improvement, as well as things students are doing really well. Then create one document with this feedback to share with all students, indicating to them that they might review their drafts with these points in mind to see where they might improve their work.

Previous Feedback 

If you’ve taught the course several times, you have a sense for where students experience challenges and also how they have solved tricky issues successfully.  Share with the current group of students the strengths, successful strategies and any common errors (and how to avoid them) that you have seen in previous courses you have taught. You can share this list before assigning the work, or as feedback once students have completed their first draft of the assignment on their own.

Rubrics or Checklists 

Rubrics and checklists clearly show students both students’ current performance level and what is required to improve (with minimal written feedback).

If you wish to collect your assignments digitally but still want to use a rubric to provide feedback, no worries! Create your rubrics in the VIULearn Rubrics tool and attach them to your Assignments, Discussions or Grade Items. When grading an assignment, having a VIULearn Rubric created and attached will allow you to check off which level of achievement the student achieved on each criterion and will allow you to provide specific written feedback at each level. VIULearn will then automatically calculate a score based on the overall achievement level that the student reached. Alternatively, you can disable the score entirely and just use the rubric as a helpful tool to provide detailed and consistent feedback to your students as they are working on their assignment. 

Formative assessment helps instructors gain useful feedback on what, how much, and how well their students are learning. Faculty can then use this information to refocus their teaching, reduce marking, and help students make their learning more efficient and effective. 

This blog is only an introduction to formative assessment. In the upcoming roundtable discussion we will provide more information about formative vs. summative feedback. There is much available research on successful strategies for designing and implementing feedback, yet we need to be cautious; our classes are full of diverse learners, so we know a one-size-fits-all approach is unsuitable. Nevertheless, we’ll be happy to discuss options for effective feedback that can be adapted to most situations. And, of course, you likely have your own questions about assessment and feedback that we have not addressed.

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