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Assessment: Feedback and rubrics


Effective teaching and learning involves both giving feedback to students, and also receiving feedback from students. The main purpose of feedback is to reduce discrepancies between current and desired understandings, performance and and goals. “Formative feedback has been shown in numerous studies to improve students’ learning and enhance teachers’ teaching to the extent that the learners are receptive and the feedback is on target (valid), objective, focused, and clear.” (Shute, 2008, p. 182)

Giving feedback to students

Assessing student learning requires us to give feedback to students about how they are doing in relation to the learning outcomes.

Feedback serves one of two purposes:

  1. Formative feedback gives opportunities we for students to try their hand at a task and get feedback on it before they are measured for grades. It provides students with specific information about their learning, and what they need to do to move forward, or improve. Formative feedback has been shown to have a significant positive effect on student achievement.  
  2. Summative feedback focuses on evaluating student achievement at points in time, in the form of marks or grades. It does not provide information on how students might move their learning forward.  

“The most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement is feedback. The most simple prescription for improving education must be dollops of feedback. This does not mean using many tests and providing over-prescriptive directions. It means providing information about how and why the student understands and misunderstands, and what directions the student must take to improve.”  John Hattie, Influences on Student Learning  

Key principles and tips:

  • Feedback should be timely (soon after formative or summative assessment).
  • Feedback should effective (provide clear directions for how to improve next time).
  • Don’t fall into the trap of only focusing on justifying grades. Ask yourself: “what does this learner need from me at this time?” .
  • To help distinguish between summative and formative feedback, consider dividing feedback into “this time… (for summative), next time… (for formative)”.
  • Communicate priorities. (You don’t need to give feedback on everything, only on what is most important to you for students to learn).
  • Consider giving a face to face response (individual and small group conferences; have the student take the responsibility by asking “where are you, and what do you think you need help with?").
  • Consider comments without grades for drafts and formative assessments (or could be pass/fail).
  • Consider grades with minimal comments for summative assessments unless the student asks for more, and save more detailed comments for teachable moments during formative activities.

  • Use peer feedback for some smaller formative pieces.

Characteristics of effective feedback



(rather than general)

Specific feedback helps learners identify what they have done well and what they need to do to improve, or next steps.  


(rather than evaluative)

Provides details of strengths and areas for improvement that are linked to learning outcomes and based on clear criteria, while avoiding using judgmental terms such as good or bad. 


Balanced feedback provides information about strengths, as well as suggestions for development.


The learner is given enough information, without feeling overloaded.


Feedback is directed toward behaviours the learner can change.


(rather than imposed)

Feedback can be particularly effective when the learners are answering a question that they had. 


Feedback is most helpful when occurs during or shortly after a learning event when the lesson is fresh in the minds of all involved. 


(for understanding)

The learner and instructor check to see if the feedback was understood. 



Darby, F. (2019). Small teaching online. Jossey-Bass.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 102.

Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153-189.

Suski, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. Jossey-Bass.

Walvoord, B. and Johnson Anderson, V. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college. Jossey-Bass.

Wiggins, G. (2012). Feedback for learning: 7 keys to effective feedback. Journal of Educational Leadership, 7(1), 10-16.

Receiving feedback from students

Effective teachers engage in a cyclical process of reflecting on their practice. Each day brings an opportunity to learn and grow from our experiences. We can get feedback on what's working or not working through our own self-reflection, inviting peer feedback, and receiving feedback from students. When we invite feedback from students, and then demonstrate we are listening to them by making modifications to our teaching, we are modelling how to give and receive feedback in order to improve learning. 

Inviting student feedback

Periodically throughout the term you can gather feedback from your students about their experience of the class. This can be done anonymously or not, through a wide range of brief survey techniques. Here are just a few examples of formative feedback questions and activities you can use with your students:

  • Stop - start - continue (e.g., make a note of one thing you would like me to stop doing, one thing you’d like me to start doing, and one thing you’d like to me to continue doing). 
  • Two stars and a wish (e.g., jot down two things that are working well for you in the course and one suggestion for a change). 
  • "The best part of today's class was...because...  If I could change one thing about today's class I would... because..."
  • What did the instructor do to help you learn? What could the instructor do to help you learn? What could I have done to help myself learn?
  • What was the muddiest point in today's class?


Grading is one of the ways we provide feedback to students about how they are doing, but a number or letter is not very helpful unless we ensure students understand what it means in relation to what they are expected to learn, or the intended learning outcomes. 

Rubrics are scoring guides that list and describe the criteria used for evaluating student learning. There are a variety of formats (such as checklist, rating scale, or descriptive) for different situations, and they may or may not be directly tied to grades.

The purpose of a rubric 

  • Make assessment of student learning more accurate, unbiased, and consistent 
  • Clarify vague goals 
  • Help students understand expectations 
  • Help students reflect on their learning and self-assess 
  • Inspire better student performance 
  • Make assessing student learning easier and faster 
  • Improve feedback to students 
  • Reduce arguments with students 
  • Improve feedback to faculty 
  • Save time spent on the grading process 

How to construct a rubric  

  • Get clear on your objectives for the assignment – what you want students to learn or do, making sure it is linked to learning outcomes.
  • Consider creating the rubric even before the assignment so you are clear about what you want it to accomplish. 
  • Identify the specific criteria/categories against which student learning will be assessed (e.g. analysis, writing quality, organization, formatting, overall impression).
  • Describe what “exceptional” and “failing” would look like for each category; decide how many gradients you want in between.
  • Use examples of feedback from previous comments on assignments or tests, and anything else that has helped you determine student performance to help shape your criteria.
  • For each attribute construct a descriptive scale (e.g. a four or five point scale from outstanding to poor, or two point scale with complete/incomplete).
  • Assign a weight to each category - what matters most? 
  • Start with a simple set of core criteria and clear assignment expectations that can be developed and revised over time through trial and error.
  • Try out the scale with a sample of student work, and review it with colleagues; ask yourself: what’s missing in my scale? What is most important? 

Sample rubrics

We now have some sample rubrics built right into the rubrics tool in D2L. Most are adapted from the Association of American Colleges & Universities Value Rubrics.  If instructors want an adapted copy of one of these rubrics, please email Monique Brewer in eLearning, and she can copy over into anyone’s course.

"The VALUE rubrics were developed by teams of faculty experts representing colleges and universities across the United States through a process that examined many existing campus rubrics and related documents for each learning outcome and incorporated additional feedback from faculty. The rubrics articulate fundamental criteria for each learning outcome, with performance descriptors demonstrating progressively more sophisticated levels of attainment. The rubrics are intended for institutional-level use in evaluating and discussing student learning, not for grading. The core expectations articulated in all 15 of the VALUE rubrics can and should be translated into the language of individual campuses, disciplines, and even courses. The utility of the VALUE rubrics is to position learning at all undergraduate levels within a basic framework of expectations such that evidence of learning can by shared nationally through a common dialog and understanding of student success."

Reprinted with permission from "VALUE: Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education."  Copyright 2019 by the Association of American Colleges and Universities.