Evaluating student work is one of the most important and most difficult aspects of teaching.  Your expectations for each graded component of the course, including participation, should be included in the course syllabus or assignment descriptions.  Written or posted assignment descriptions that provide explanations for each assignment, project, or paper can articulate its connection to student learning goals and objectives, and clarify evaluation criteria are best practices and help students understand your expectations for their learning. Faculty who use checklists or rubrics can help students better understand what the expectations are for a project, and may also improve their grading effectiveness.

Providing Effective Feedback to Students

Teaching effectiveness and student learning can be significantly strengthened by providing useful feedback.  The following suggestions can help you provide feedback that helps students understand both their areas of strength and areas for improvement:

  • Provide both positive and corrective feedback.
  • Focus your feedback on the most important aspects needed for improvement.
  • Focus your comments to direct student learning, especially when giving corrective feedback.  For example, help them understand what was missing or incorrect, why this matters, and how they can improve.  Asking questions is a fantastic strategy for giving corrective feedback.  Work to be as positive and encouraging as possible.
  • Communicate and provide clear expectations for assignments, papers and projects that include your criteria for evaluation.  Having well-developed grading rubrics are immensely helpful.
  • Give feedback early and often.
  • Make notes of common problems on an assignment or common errors from an exam.  Make this available to all students and, if possible, spend some class time reviewing these issues and providing needed clarification.
  • Use your notes of common problems and/or errors to adjust your teaching.  This is important feedback for you as the instructor; if the majority of students had misconceptions or misunderstandings about a particular topic or issue, then that is a good indicator that you might want to review the notes and learning activities for the material addressed that day.  For example, you might present the information differently next time you teach it, you might redesign your class activities, you might change the wording in an assignment or an exam question, or you might provide different advice to students about their preparation.
  • If you have an assignment or exam where you suspect cheating or plagiarism, make a copy of the assignment before returning it and follow the Honor Code procedures established by the Office for Academic Integrity.
  • Remember that students can give each other effective feedback if you provide guidelines for them to follow and your expectations are clear.
Grading Effectively and Maintaining Your Sanity
  • For anything but long papers, write out your own answers to the questions before you read any student answers.  Use your answers to make a list of key things to look for and then add to the list as you read the students’ responses.  This will help you be consistent in grading.
  • Do you care more about style, quality of evidence, or clarity of the thesis?  Think about your expectations, prioritize them, and then focus on those when grading.  [NOTE: Communicating these expectations and priorities to students will facilitate a better product to grade.]
  • Read a few papers, and even make comments on them, before assigning a grade.  It helps to understand the level of student thought, the way in which they have interpreted the question, and the ways they express themselves before you start assigning grades.
  • If you are grading for someone else (e.g., if you are a TA), ask the professor for his/her assignment guidelines and evaluation criteria.
  • Make a list of common problems or misconceptions as you grade.  Share these with the students and faculty of record for the course.  This helps the students realize what they still need to work on and helps the teacher see what needs to be addressed.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.  You cannot correct every grammatical error, nor should you!  Highlight the first few, show how to correct them, and then ask them to correct them throughout the rest of the paper.  Helping students to understand their error patterns and asking them to correct them is critical for self-directed and lifelong learning.
  • Give yourself enough time and avoid grading when you are very tired or very annoyed.  This will show in your grading and you probably will not grade consistently or effectively.
  • Start by saying something positive.  Students need to know that you took their work seriously and valued it.
  • Stay focused– identify what is good (their strengths), what is incorrect, and how to make the work better.  Avoid making disparaging comments about the student and her/his work.
  • Try grading in a color other than red.  Colors such as green, purple, or blue are less intimidating than red.
  • Never put more effort into grading than the student has put into the submission.
  • And finally, consider developing a grading rubric for your assignment.  While the initial process of constructing the rubric takes time, you will get it back when you sit down to grade!
Using Rubrics as a Grading Tool

Rubrics are incredibly useful tools to assist with your grading and to communicate your expectations about particular assignments to your students.  When you grade a complex assignment with a rubric, you provide both a grade and feedback to the student.  Rubrics work particularly well on for grading essays, problems with multiple steps, oral presentations, final papers, and other complex assignments. They can assist you in grading more consistently within a particular course, in addition to helping faculty maintain consistency across multiple course sections, particularly for those courses with multiple instructors of record.  Moreover, students report that rubrics are helpful in clarifying faculty expectations about assignments, particularly when the grading rubric is made available with the assignment so they can see exactly how they will be graded.

Develop your rubric:  
When developing a rubric, you want to clearly define the assignment.  After having done this you will want to describe the key evaluation criteria for the assignment.  Once you have articulated your  evaluation criteria, then you can establish standards, or expectations, that explain what constitutes “excellent,” “good,” “satisfactory,” or “unsatisfactory”work for each criterion.

Decide if you are using a holistic or analytic rubric:  Using a holistic rubric simply means that you are giving a grade for the entire assignment.  These work well for shorter assignments where the student needs an overall impression of how well they did.  Holistic rubrics can also be useful for grading participation, where there are multiple ways to contribute meaningfully.  Analytic rubrics are those with feedback broken down over each aspect of the assignment. These work well on more complex assignments, where students need feedback over the areas they need to improve and where they have strengths.

Example Rubrics:

Attendance and Participation as Factors in Grading

Students are expected to attend the class periods of the courses for which they register. In-class participation is important not only to the individual student, but also to the class as a whole. Because class participation may be a factor in grading, instructors may use absence, tardiness, or early departure as de facto evidence of non-participation. Students who miss an exam with an acceptable excuse may be penalized according to the individual instructor’s grading policy, as stated in the course syllabus.

Setting Expectations for Participation

In many classes, it is important to encourage and assess student participation.  Some professors would like to do this, but worry about fairly quantifying it when calculating grades.  If participation counts toward students’ final grade in the course, it is important to be clear about your expectations regarding what qualifies or counts as participation in your course.  For example, the following criteria can be used or adapted to assess participation in your course:

  • Students prepare for and actively engage in class discussion (e.g., demonstrate active listening, not distracted by electronics or peers)
  • Students thoughtfully engage in in-class assignments and activities
  • Students constructively participate in group activities
  • Students participate in class discussion by
    • raising informed discussion points;
    • connecting discussion to reading material, news, and relevant experiences;
    • asking questions;
    • listening to other perspectives;
    • sharing the floor with others; and
    • posting thoughtfully to course discussion boards.

Be sure to share your expectations for participation with your students and to reinforce and model the behaviors yourself.

Some ways to grade participation:

Be sure to share your expectations for participation with your students and to reinforce and model the behaviors yourself. Some faculty members grade participation by assessing each student daily, while others focus on a randomly selected smaller number of students each day or grade participation only on days when participation is required. Regardless of which approach you choose, having a method for assessing participation is important. The method can be quite simple, for example:

2 points1 point0 points
Present and actively participating.Present but not exemplary participation.Absent or not participating.

Alternatively, some instructors choose to grade participation across the semester using a rubric. For more information and an example, please see Grading Class Discussion.

Hints to help students learn to participate:

  • On the first day of class, facilitate having the students make a list of what they expect in an active and engaged class. Once you have the list, post it on Blackboard as the expectations for participation.
  • Ask students to bring a list of questions they had about a reading assignment to class to use as prompts.
  • Start students with a discussion question in small groups, then report and discuss their answers using spokesperson (Svinicki and McKeachie, 2014, call these Buzz Groups).
  • Move students into a small group (especially effective if in a large room where students will spread out if given the choice). One way to do this is ask them not to sit in back rows.
  • Have students partner to answer a question, solve a problem, or analyze an argument, then share with the larger group.
  • Have students brainstorm a list of answers to a prompt on paper, then add to a growing list on the board.
  • Ask students to solve an issue, and give them a short period of time to present a solution.
Surviving End of Semester Grading

Towards the end of the semester, grading can become an onerous task. To stay afloat, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make assignments worth grading. If the assignment doesn’t clearly link to your student learning goals, then change it or remove it.
  • Understand the goal of grading the assignment. If the assignment will be returned to the student and used to improve their work on the next project, then make necessary comments. If you are grading a text or assignment at the end of the semester, your time will be better spent making few notes.
  • Separate commenting from grading. If many students are making the same mistake, note it for yourself and lead the class through it, rather than making individual comments on each page. Note it for following semesters.
  • Use a rubric to grade assignments. The time spent making the rubric will be time saved in grading.
  • On multiple choice tests, do a quick item analysis. You can quickly see where students showed strengths and weakness. If more than half the students miss a question, check to see if the key was incorrect or answer unclear.
  • Get students to help you organize your grading by giving them a checklist of important elements to be included with an assignment and a clear deadline.
  • Create a procedure for student questions about grading. Rather than allowing them to come individually or crowd you after class, tell them that you will (for instance) consider any questions that come by email in the next week, with clear questions or explanations of why a grade should be changed.
Nuts and Bolts: About Grading at Mason

To answer your questions about how to view and email your class lists, please see the Registrar’s information about Class Lists.

To answer your questions about how to enter midterm evaluations, submit your final grades, grading deadlines, and other frequently asked grading questions, please visit the Registrar’s Grading for Faculty.

You can learn more about Registration and Attendance and the Grading Systems in the Academic Policies section of the University Catalog.

See Graduate Grading and Graduate Academic Standing for more information when teaching and mentoring graduate students.