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Establishing best practices for grading writing in the UK

It’s no secret that the majority of educators regard grading as a tedium. While few argue against the merits grading has in fostering student knowledge, many educators find it difficult to balance their teaching and research duties while providing adequate feedback to hundreds of written assignments. In the UK for example, recent surveys find over 53% of educators strongly advocated for a reform of marking policies, many stressing that grading written assignments is “unnecessarily burdensome”.

In order to establish common best practices for grading policies, researchers at the University of Oxford conducted an extensive literature review of relevant studies and administrative grading guidelines. The key finding of this study is there exists a paucity of longitudinal peer-reviewed studies on best practices for writing assignments. This is surprising, given both the importance of providing students quality feedback and the sheer amount of time instructors everywhere dedicate to grading.

Despite the lack of relevant longitudinal studies, researchers were able to establish an empirically-grounded foundation for effective and sustainable grading policies. These strategies include:

  • Don’t waste time on careless errors. Formative feedback should be provided in clear instances of student misunderstanding or difficulty; carelessness should simply be marked as incorrect.
  • Emphasize feedback over letter grades. Students will often focus on the grade and ignore the formative feedback. Leave letter grades and percentages off assignments or place them on the back page.
  • Provide rubrics for assignments. This provides students with clear benchmarks and expectations for assignments, limiting unnecessary questions and office hour visits.
  • Designate time to discuss evaluations. Whether through email, office hours, class, or tutorials, set aside time to discuss evaluations with students.

While each of these strategies may not be suitable for all educators, they provide an effective benchmark for developing grading policies. In order to fill the evidence gaps in this research, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is funding further studies across the UK. This additional research will identify efficient and cost-effective ways of improving grading and student learning, including the role of education technology.

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About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and marketing strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also a part-time faculty member at Centennial College and serves on the board of the Canadian Public Relations Society.

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