Go Beyond an Assignment Grade: Partners for Improved Writing!
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The scene was not a pretty one: Utah Zizth was on her bed, crying, ripped pieces of paper
strewn all about. As if to frame the entire scene, some soulful blues music was playing in the
background. Her reason for being in such distress is not an isolated one, rather an experience
hundreds of thousands of college students have experienced: receiving a low grade on a Final
Draft assignment (here, an F when Utah thought her paper was at least B quality). The meeting
with her professor to discuss the poor effort only added to her misery, as he pointed out that
Utah had made few of the changes he indicated on Utah’s Initial Draft, and when he asked why,
Utah had no legitimate answer. For she did what so many who write do – students and
professionals – when receiving a graded draft: looking only at the grade and not taking the
important step of reading the feedback on the written piece. A lesson pointed out by Utah’s
professor is simply pragmatic: everyone learns from mistakes, errors, and oversights; it’s how
folks become better at X, Y, or Z. They are, in essence, guides to one’s efforts to be better and
more in line with what should be the expected improved writing.
Students do not live simple lives where their only focus, only responsibility, is a course or two.
Lives are complex now, balancing family, outside responsibilities, school – the list goes on. It is
understandable how one can take a McGrade approach to receiving a graded assignment: time
is precious, and diving beyond the grade – to view, understand, and embrace a professor’s
feedback – requires more time. Thus, taking the score and moving on is the simple and quick
thing to do. However, stepping back and looking at life, again and again it is seen where errors,
miscalculations, and lack of knowledge pointed out by another has allowed for a better
backhand in tennis, a more delectable chateaubriand, an improved vegetable garden, a more
confident public speaker. Using such lessons expands our knowledge and confidence; this
easily translates into good responses from others. Thus, taking the time to read and implementassignment feedback will not only improve grades in a course but can have a lifelong impact onpeople, places, and things through one’s efforts in X, Y, or Z.
Utah needed to slow down, was the message she took away from the meeting with her
professor. He indicated that his primary goal was for students to improve, and one way this can
occur is through the detailed notes he leaves on student assignments: pointing out the
incorrect items, of course, but also showing where positive strides were made by the student.
This combination, if used, would certainly result in higher student grades and a more thorough
knowledge of the subject. Past student assignments in previous courses bore this out. A last
suggestion made by the professor was to create a checklist of what Utah needed to do each
time she received a graded assignment so she could be sure a professor’s feedback did not
disappear in some black hole, but rather would shine brightly – and light up Utah’s mind.
This woman was smart; she knew that asking her professor and classmates for tips could give
her items she had not considered. Utah created a checklist opus:
● Have a mindset that all feedback can be helpful, no matter if good or poor. Professors
want students to improve, so they give feedback to accomplish this. Consider feedback
as “feedfuture,” i.e., information to serve as guides for a stronger next assignment.
● Always remember that assignment feedback extends beyond one course. Feedback
also serves as a segue: look for areas beyond the classroom where the feedback can
prove helpful, whether employment, family, sports, hobbies, etc.
● Designate time devoted solely for reading the feedback. To fully read and understand
each piece of feedback get away – as much as possible – from distractions. Make the
effort to concentrate on the items so they can be fully appreciated for future use.
● Create a master list of what to avoid and what to keep; use this going forward. Noting
what didn’t work and what worked well can be used as a checklist for future
assignments; this can help prevent the mistakes from reoccurring while reminding of
what worked well.
● Always ask for clarification – and don’t be afraid to challenge a comment. Never guess
as to what a notation means; if not fully grasped be sure to ask the professor for more
detail. Also, if a professor’s comment does not seem right, reach out and let the
individual know – professors are human, and thus can also make mistakes. Yet if the
professor’s comment is correct added information can be given so the error is not
● A guiding principle: never, ever focus on one or two poor grades. Everyone has
received or will receive an assignment grade that is just disappointing. Don’t let this be
the focus, but rather always look at “the big picture,” i.e., a final course grade is made
up of many varied assignments. This means that redemption is always possible.
Utah felt satisfied with her checklist, and went back to her F paper. This time, she read over her
professor’s comments in detail – much to be corrected, but some strengths that were also
indicated. She followed each point of her checklist (there was one comment Utah did not fully
understand, and so she asked her professor to further explain, which he did), then used it for
her next writing assignment … and held her breath! She was pleasantly surprised with what
appeared in the gradebook: an A- ! That feedback really is “feedfuture,” and Utah was
definitely sold on this new approach. Yes, it did take her more time, but the end result certainly
more than justified those extra minutes. Utah thought: yet another arrow in her quiver of ways
to improve her writing – how nice!