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A Feedback Policy with Unintended Positive Results

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Hands of a white person using the trackpad on a Macbook AirEarlier this year, I shared my strategy to bribe students by offering extra points for those who turned in their work before Spring Break. I had some success, but there is still room for improvement. I am currently teaching a six-week summer session class, and I’ve accidentally found a strategy that encourages students to turn in work sooner, rather than later.

The challenge of a summer class is jamming fifteen weeks of work into six weeks. Every day in the summer needs to cover as much material and work as two and a half days in the fall or spring classes. My normal routine is to have a rough draft due one week and the final draft due the next week. That schedule allows me to provide feedback on the rough drafts so that students can use the information as they revise.

As I set up the schedule for the course, I realized I would be unable to keep that set-up in place. Realistically, I have to cover a new project every week, assigning the project on Monday and then asking for a rough draft due on Wednesday and a final draft due on Friday. My late policy gives students a three-day grace period, during which they can still turn in their work without any penalty.

I bet you can see the problem. I cannot push the rough draft any earlier in the week if I want to allow students time to process and work on their projects. I decided to tell students that I could not give them feedback on rough drafts that were turned in after Wednesday. Even with the small class size during the summer, it isn’t realistic to think students can turn in drafts later and still get feedback before the final draft is due. I added this paragraph to the assignment:

I will not provide individualized editing or revision feedback on rough drafts submitted after 11:59 PM on Wednesday, July 17. I will provide everyone with collective feedback that goes over the issues that I see in the drafts all members of the course submit. I may use excerpts from your draft to provide collective feedback to the class, based on the Anonymous Use of Student Texts policy.

There is no grade penalty involved. Students earn the same number of points no matter when they turn in their drafts. The firm deadline only relates to the individualized feedback involved.

The surprise for me came that first Wednesday night when I checked to see how many drafts had been submitted. Eleven of my fifteen students had turned in a draft! That’s an amazing 73% of the class, far outweighing the 31% who turned work in early during the spring term. Amazing!

I feel a little selfish about the policy. After all, my job is to give students feedback. Within the time constraints however, it was the only option that seemed reasonable. I never expected the policy to entice so many students to stay on track and turn work in on time.

It seems as though I have found a bribery strategy that is working. Will it last through the entire term? I’ll have to let you know after a few more assignments. I am certainly wondering whether I should try it in the fall as well. What do you think? Do you limit the feedback that students can receive from you? I would appreciate hearing from you. Just leave me a comment below.

Photo credit: wocintech (microsoft) - 114 by WOCinTech Chat on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

4 Comments
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Actually, I use a similar strategy for reviewing drafts in a regular term, not just in the summer (where, out of necessity, it works very well). I give students a deadline for drafts several days before the final is due; those who meet it receive an individualized review of their work; the rest will receive a summary of comments I made on those drafts I already reviewed as well as a few new comments that may have arisen from a review of drafts submitted after that first deadline. Most students want the individual review, so to an extent, it has increased the number of drafts I receive on time. Others seem content with the more summative review and I think that works as well. 

In a regular term, when I have four writing classes to teach, I try to provide individual draft feedback on the first two writing projects no matter what. Then, as the term gets underway, I think there is actually benefit to the more summative "group review" where I address common concerns that I notice in drafts. I then ask students to look for these issues in their own drafts  (or in peers' if we are doing a peer review). I think that makes them less dependent on me for each and every comment and more aware of how to look for and resolve issues in their own writing. I post my review (sometimes quite lengthy) in a discussion forum where students can then ask questions about individual points, and provide, if they like, an example from their own draft that we can discuss further as needed. Occasionally, there are students who don't bother to look at the group review but they quickly find out it is to their benefit to do so. So, your strategy serves a number of purposes, I think, in the summer session as well as in the regular term. I rely on it also to help me provide draft reviews in a more timely manner. With 4 writing classes, even in 15 weeks, I can't always do individual review on each project.  

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Traci,  I wonder if you got the results you did (many drafts turned in early) b/c you changed the agent of the action.  Instead of being required to turn in drafts (teacher=agent), you told students they could choose to turn them in (student = agent).  Interesting, whatever the reason.

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Could well be, Suellyn. I do prefer to give students as much choice as I can.

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Thanks for sharing your strategy, Suzanne. This information will definitely help as I determine how to scale the practice to fall semester!

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.