All instructors have had difficult conversations with students who are questioning their grades. Even though these conversations can be frustrating at times, we need to focus on why a student received a certain grade and what they can do to improve.

  • Develop both formative and summative assessments.  Formative assessments measure how well students are learning; they are frequently short or even in-class assignments or quizzes that allow students to measure progress and instructors to measure the effectiveness of their teaching. Summative assessments measure what a student has learned, benchmarking their progress at the end of a unit or term. Many college courses use only summative assessments, providing feedback only when it’s already time to move to the next topic. This can lead to nasty surprises for students who felt they understood the material.
  • Develop and post rubrics.  A rubric, put simply, lays out your expectations for students in clear terms. What do you expect them to be able to do, and how well?  What, exactly, constitutes a well-written paper, or a well-designed project submission?  Posting this information at the beginning of an assignment can help students understand what you want.
  • Take time in class to review. We cannot assume students will understand our feedback. Take time before a paper assignment to walk through a sample paper, demonstrating the kind of feedback you provide and how it links to the rubric.  Show them last year’s exam and how it was assessed.
  • Help students understand how to improve.  When possible, give students opportunities to improve in response to your feedback.  Discuss their options for academic support.