Providing effective student feedback

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The following guide is provided for teaching assistants (TAs) to assist in your task of providing feedback to students about their course assignments, whether graded or not. The most important aspect of feedback is to support students’ learning. Therefore, it is important to be encouraging, clear, and succinct with your feedback. Not all suggestions below may be applicable in all disciplines or adhere to departmental policies. Please use this information as a guide only.

If the assignment is graded, remember that grading is a very important communication tool between the students and the instructor. The grade indicates to students their level of performance, but the more important aspect is the quality of feedback you provide to help students learn how to improve their work. Before grading, begin by talking with the course instructor/coordinator about the marking standards for the assignment.


    Whether the assignment is formative (practice) or summative (grade assigned), you always begin by creating a rubric, if one is not provided to you. Rubrics are very useful tools to help maintain consistency and fairness in your grading. Using a rubric is an easy way to clarify to students what is required for the assignment. Rubrics make marking papers and assignments efficient as you spend less time debating whether the assignment is an A or A- because the criteria is specific. Whether you are provided with a rubric or create the rubric, make sure all criteria are included in the rubric. If you create your own, before sharing with students, have the course instructor/coordinator review and revise, if needed.

    Next, clearly communicate expectations to students. The course instructor/coordinator will have details about the assignment explaining what is required. For example, for a paper assignment, the following criteria will probably be stated:

    • double- or single-spaced
    • cover page or not
    • number of references required
    • referencing format to be followed
    • expectations for content (thesis, argument, other requirements), and
    • writing style requirements

    A rubric is a tool used in assessing student work. It is helpful as it allows the student to see what is expected of them at different levels of performance, and it decreases the amount of time it takes to mark each assignment as it increases overall consistency because the criteria are clearly outlined.

    Providing Feedback

    Feedback is crucial to support students during their learning journey. However, research shows that students often do not read feedback (Leki, 1992), and if they do read it, they read it to understand their grade and only apply what they learn from feedback to the assignment on which it is given. Therefore, try to avoid giving too much feedback and error correction so that it is not overwhelming.  Your aim is to provide feedback to help students improve their academic skills and learn (Walvoord & Anderson, 1998; Straub, 2000).

    There are five key components to providing constructive feedback:



    Feedback focused on the intended learning outcomes (ILOs) is most relevant to students



    Do not provide students a ‘blizzard’ of feedback with each piece its own ‘snowflake’, but rather focus on two or three areas of feedback per assignment. Focus the feedback where it will be the most beneficial for the student, both to attain the course ILOs and for their learning process.



    Provide feedback promptly while the assignment is still fresh as students are interested in receiving the feedback and learning it. Provide feedback early in the process to help students learn and improve their assignment and resulting grade (for example, consider having students submit a draft).



    Think of it as “feedback” and “feed-forward”: what advice can you give that will help students do better on the next assignment, in the next course, and in their next year of study? If marking by hand, ensure your comments are legible and readable by all students. Consider typing the feedback if your handwriting is hard to read.



    Remember that the words that you write on a student’s paper can have a much more negative impact than you intended (see ‘Feedback comments’ section below). If you feel frustrated when marking, it is a good idea to set the marking aside, take a break, and do something a bit different until you can approach marking and feedback with a more neutral tone.

    Feedback comments

    Comments provide the necessary feedback for learning. They should address the strengths and offer suggestions for improvement of the paper. The feedback should be constructive and accompanied by positive feedback.

    Remember that you are marking the assignment, not the student. Avoid phrases like “You should have done …” or “You clearly missed the point.” Instead use “In future papers, it is important to address ….”.

    Start a ‘Common feedback’ document and share with other TAs for your course. This can include clearly written comments for common mistakes in the assignment and helps save time as you can copy and paste the feedback across the numerous assignments. Alternatively, once this document is complete, instead of putting these common comments on all papers, just send students this document so that all can learn from it.

    Be specific and clear about where all points are being added or deducted so students understand where they have earned or lost points. Attach the rubric so that students can clearly see point distribution.

    You do not need to keep correcting the same errors:

    • When mistakes are repeated several times indicate clearly (and succinctly) when it happens the first time. Typically, you only identify on the first two or three pages.
    • For all other repeat mistakes add a general note, such as “grammar” or “sentence structure” or consider using shorthand (see table below).

    Common Shorthand key

    Longform Shorthand
    Grammar gr
    Spelling sp
    Sentence Structure ss

    Common Keyboard Shortcuts

    Command Mac users PC users
    Add a comment   Cmd + Option + A Ctrl + Alt + M
    Undo   Cmd + Z Ctrl + Z
    Copy   Cmd + C Ctrl + C
    Paste   Cmd + V Ctrl + V
    Italicize an item   Cmd + I Ctrl + I
    Bold an item   Cmd + B Ctrl + B
    Underline an item   Cmd + U Ctrl + U
    Minimize window   Cmd + M Ctrl + M
    Click multiple items to group in a comment/highlight   Option + Shift + R or L Arrow Key Ctrl + Shift + R or L Arrow Key
    Strikethrough text   Cmd + Shift + X Ctrl + D, then Alt + K, then Enter

    Returning assignments

    1. Normally, all assignments are returned to students with the exception of final exams.
    2. Assignments should be returned individually to prevent another student access to the comments or marks. This means that you should not leave a pile of marked assignments unattended for students to pick up at random.
    1. Korpan, C., Waye, L., Ami, N., & Tagharobi, K. (2019). Grading student writing: a guide for instructors. University of Victoria. Division of Learning and Teaching Support and Innovation.
    2. Leki, I. (1992). Understanding ESL writers: A guide for teachers. Portsmouth, N.H: Boynton/Cook Publishers
    3. Straub, R. (2000). The practice of response: Strategies for commenting on student writing. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.
    4. Walvoord, B., & Anderson, V. (1998). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

    This guide was developed by the LTSI TA Coordinator and updated during the Teaching Assistant Consultants’ (TACs) seminars in 2021-2022.

    About this post

    This post was last updated:

    August 11, 2022

    We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

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