Sophisticated Rubrics and and the Power of Feedback

June 23, 2008

We recently presented on a simple change to collecting work from students: ask them to include a cover letter, addressed to the instructor, with their submission of work. This cover letter should reflect upon the previous feedback they have received (from instructors and, most recently, their peer reviewers if applicable). It could also give the reader an overview of the goals of their work and specify areas in which they (the student) are most interested in receiving feedback.

We thought it useful to illustrate this process with examples.

The following example is from a college-level writing class where students were studying the effect of war on culture (and vice-versa). They were given the following assignment:

We will read some articles about Iraq, it’s effects, a history of horror movies, and a detailed account of the US involvement in Somalia.

Project 1 is an academic paper: formal diction, MLA citation formatting, credible research – the works. In four or five pages (1,000 to 1,250 words), you will make an original argument concerning the impact of art on war, or conversely war on art. By ‘art’ we mean the visual arts, music, film, novels – almost any creative undertaking. You can be quite liberal in your selection…just be prepared to defend the choice.

The key here is originality. Did Woodstock influence the Vietnam War? It’s probably easy to argue that it did (and also that it didn’t, since we were in Vietnam for another 6 years). Did the poetry of Wilfred Owen horrify the English so much that they avoided a second war with the Germans? No. And neither of these approaches would make a worthy paper.

Your four to five page paper must have at least three credible sources (not including the assigned work for the class).

It is worth noting that the students read several lengthy articles reviewing pop-culture icons (like the Saw series of films) that argued deep connections to more serious issues than the students might at first see. So they were set up to engage intellectually with material of their own choosing, and connect it to a war. There were several Harry Potter essays, but the results were satisfyingly diverse.

Here is an example cover letter from a student:

Example Student Cover Letter

Example cover letter: Click for a larger image

Here is the rubric used to assess and respond to the student, as it appears in Waypoint (interactive rubric software – the rubric could be translated to a paper-based approach):

Argumentative Essay Rubric

Rubric used to assess and respond: Click for a larger image

This student received the following feedback, along with an annotated document (created in Microsoft Word, then appended to the feedback in Waypoint), from the instructor:

Sample Feedback

Feedback to student: Click for a larger image

Needless to say, this kind of feedback is unusual in any educational setting – but the above was created in about 8 minutes, and the cover letter process (along with other tips and tricks) helps make sure the process is constructive and useful.

It is worth noting that this assignment was given in the middle of the academic term, so the students could be expected to learn from the feedback, then apply it in a final project that did not receive this kind of detailed feedback.

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