In this section, Leigh Hafrey shares his insights about providing students with feedback on their course assignments and class participation.
My teaching assistants and I provide feedback as another version of the dialogue I hope to foster among the students themselves. The courses employ very specific guidelines for commenting on the co-teaching assignment, the team-written papers and the individual papers, with an emphasis on argumentation. We give students a list of pros and cons, and then a final comment. The feedback usually runs a full page, so it's substantial. I try to make sure students understand what they've done well and what needs improving. The final comment connects the two and says, “So, this is what you did well. If you'd done these other things in this way rather than the way you did, you would've maximized the yield from what you did do well.” And then I give them a grade.
I say—and I mean it—that they can take whatever position they want on a subject in their papers, but they need to use evidence and a coherent structure to advance that position. I hire teaching assistants who are high-energy and very good writers, and we turn around our commentary quickly, so that each assignment builds on the assessment of the one that preceded it. I select teaching assistants who, by and large, get an A in managerial communication, which usually indicates that they are skilled at writing. I also look for people who have the kind of humanities or social science background that feeds into the course, people with a background that indicates they have thought about written communication as a meaningful mode of engagement.
The course assigns 40% of the grade to class participation, and I provide feedback there, too, by remembering who said what when and by reminding students of their participation at key points in the discussion.