Many conscientious instructors give too much feedback to students on their work.
- That students respond positively to, appreciate, etc., extensive feedback on their work doesn't entail that this helps them learn. I don't doubt that many students like getting extensive feedback. But why do they like it? My hypothesis is that for the great majority of students, extensive feedback is welcome because it justifies the grade they receive on their work. Mind you, I think students are entitled to enough information that explains their grade. But the vast majority of students see feedback as an auxiliary to our summative judgment, not as a formative judgment on the basis of which to improve their subsequent work and become better student writers. (And I hate to say it, but: Those comments you meticulously prepared? Too often the paper will be thrown in the trash or the e-mail deleted.) This is apparent from the fact that student work often shows the same deficiencies time after time. If we want students to treat our feedback as formative, this is something we have to encourage them to do — and show them how to do it. And we have plenty of ways to show students we care about their performance besides our feedback.
- We can give informative feedback that isn't very extensive. A grading shortcut can be just as informative as thorough feedback. A well-constructed rubric, particularly augmented with marginal grading codes, can tell students as much as narrative-type feedback. Rubrics and the like may be perceived as impersonal -- but we shouldn't think that's an entirely bad thing.
- The ultimate goal of teaching should be to (slowly) create autonomous learners who are increasingly non-reliant on our feedback. This is really the heart of my case against giving (too) extensive feedback. One saying I like about teaching and learning: "She who does the work does the learning." Giving extensive feedback is a great deal of work for an instructor — and what it shows is that the instructor has mastered the task at hand and can evaluate the quality of learning performances. But unless the instructor mandates it, the feedback generates no work on the part of the student and so does nothing on its own to help the student become better at the task in question. If our hope is that students will become more expert-like in their academic performance, they have to develop metacognition: the capacity to evaluate their own work midstream, in the very process of producing it. Only then can they loosen their dependence on our judgment on their work and begin to assimilate the standards of excellence relevant to their work so that their judgment becomes reliable.