Students Expect Feedback

By Annie Murphy Paul, The Brilliant Report, 9/18/15

“Frequent, low-stakes grading” builds confidence, motivation, and learning.

In general, I’m skeptical of generational arguments in education: that common line of reasoning that goes, “Millennials [or Generation Y or digital natives or . . . ] have grown up doing X, so we in education need to do X, too, to maintain their attention and engagement.”

If X isn’t supported by research on how people actually learn, then doing more of it isn’t a good idea, no matter how comfortable it makes young people feel….

But sometimes the young people are onto something. That’s the argument of Scott Warnock, English professor and director of the Writing Center at Drexel University, and I think he’s right. In a post on the blog Faculty Focus, Warnock describes the lived reality of our students:

“After going out for tacos, our students can review the restaurant on a website. They watch audiences reach a verdict on talent each season on American Idol. When they play video games—and they play them a lot—their screens are filled with status and reward metrics. And after (and sometimes while) taking our classes, they can go online to It may surprise us to think of it like this, but today’s students grew up in a culture of routine assessment and feedback. Yet when they click (or walk) into our courses, the experience is often quite different….”

Our students have grown up in a culture of continual feedback—and more important, they’re right to feel that such continual feedback is essential to improvement and progress. Too often, our current testing regime offers little or no feedback all semester long, then inflicts a high-stakes assessment at the end of the year—and even then doesn’t offer much feedback beyond a rather uninformative numerical score, delivered weeks or months later….

Warnock advises instructors to implement what he calls frequent, low-stakes (FLS) grading—“simple course evaluation methods that allow you to provide students with many grades so that an individual grade doesn’t mean much.” The benefits:

“FLS creates dialogue. Frequent grades can establish a productive student-teacher conversation, and students have an ongoing answer to the question, ‘How am I doing?’

FLS builds confidence. Students have many opportunities to succeed, and there is a consistent, predictable, open evaluation structure.

FLS increases motivation. FLS grading fits into students’ conceptions—and, perhaps, expectations—of assessment and evaluation: This is the culture they grew up in!”…

Annie Murphy Paul is an author, journalist, consultant, and speaker who helps people understand how we can learn better. Her latest book, How to Be Brilliant, is forthcoming. See more at

See also in ClassWise:

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