Published: March 29, 2021 By

Students need to know how they are doing in your class

When I meet with students to learn about their course learning experiences, one thing stands out: students want more frequent feedback about their performance. In some cases, students tell me they are expected to wait until midterms or later to know how they are doing. Being unsure about their performance causes unnecessary anxiety and can negatively affect motivation to stay interested and engaged in the course.

In Ken Bain’s 2004 study of college faculty, he found that highly effective instructors believe that their students want to and are able to learn. These faculty build trusting relationships through their teaching and mentoring practices. As part of this mindset, we should assume that students care about getting meaningful feedback because it helps them build confidence in themselves as learners. Mutual communication between students and their instructor about the educational process goes a long way to build the relationships of trust that encourage curiosity and engagement (Bain, 2004).

We know that the right kinds of feedback at the right times can motivate people to improve. Feedback is not the same as criticism; it should be clear, specific, balanced, timely, and focused on growth and development. Formative feedback provides an opportunity to learn and improve. Grades are a form of summative assessment, and also should be kept up-to-date with details available to students.  

Be clear and transparent about your expectations. Be specific about what you expect and what resources are available when students get stuck. Include clear grading policies and procedures for submitting assignments in your syllabus. Create a timeframe for when all assignments or tests will be graded and returned to students, and stick to it. Create rubrics for major assignments and use them as a way of communicating your expectations when you explain the assignment. 

Give early and regular feedback. Students need regular feedback on their performance so they know how to focus their studies, when to work harder, and when to ask for help. Early and regular feedback can help students stay motivated and on track with their work. To be effective, students need to know what they are doing well, what they need to work on, and how they can improve. Use specific and constructive language. 

It is good practice to return all graded assignments and poste grades within 7 to 10 days; students need to be able to correct their errors so they do not build new knowledge on misunderstandings. It can also be hard for students to move on to the next learning activity when they do not know how well they are doing.

You do not have to grade everything students do! Feedback can be informal and ungraded. Assign a series of brief, low stakes assignments in the first couple of weeks of the semester. Use iClickers or short Canvas quizzes for quick checks of understanding. One-minute papers or other short writing assignments can be a way for students to practice skills and get feedback on their learning.

Organize course assessments so that you can provide a course grade at midterm. Midterm is a good time to check in because there is still time for students to make changes. Help students do this by providing enough opportunities to build a solid grade. Midterm is also a good time to get feedback from your students about how the course is going and ways you can improve your instruction. 

Worried about a student? CU instructors can enter Course Alerts for students who are demonstrating poor performance in their classes. This early alert strategy puts a support system in place for students who need assistance. 

Use technology. There are many technology options for communicating grades and providing feedback. Canvas offers robust tools for maintaining an updated gradebook. You can import attendance records from Zoomupload your CUClickers grades, and so much more. OIT can help you any time you get stuck.


​ Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Harvard University Press.

​ Wiggins, G. (2012, September). Seven keys to effective feedback. Feedback for Learning, 70(1), 10-16.

Further reading & resources:

​ Creating and Using Rubrics – CU Center for Teaching & Learning 

​ How to Give Your Students Better Feedback With Technology: Advice Guide