Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Elliott Hall, Room 200A
275 Varner Drive
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2751

Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Elliott Hall, Room 200A
275 Varner Drive
Rochester, Michigan 48309-4485
(location map)
(248) 370-2751

Students receive a feedback form and their assignment with written feedback before getting a rubric with the grade.

Reading the Margins: Student Reflection on Written Feedback

Mon Mar 29, 2021 at 07:30 AM

Butler and Nisan's (1986) popular study found that students learn more from assignments in which they get feedback with no grade rather than feedback  and a grade. Many authors have argued that grades interrupt our intrinsic motivation to learn (Blum, 2020). While feedback is the way we authentically communicate what works well and what could be improved, grades distract students from this feedback.

My students have been using self-reflection of the written feedback I provide on completed assignments. Often, students do not know how to use the feedback provided, or they only focus on the grade or rubric/criteria list. I wanted them to focus on what is written “in the margins.” My aim is to help them become self-regulated learners by focusing their attention on written feedback and its meaning to them. I have adapted a strategy (Making a feedback action plan, n.d.) and use it with significant assignments in my course.

Student receive the feedback form (see main points below or a version of the feedback form that can be adapted) and their assignment with written feedback, but not the rubric with the grade. I take a few minutes (typically 10-15 minutes) at the beginning of class for them to read the feedback and respond to the prompts. Student place the feedback sheet in a folder that I collect. Then, I hand back the rubric to them. Toward the end of the term, I have them do an analysis of all the forms in their folder in order to see trends and areas in which they have improved.

Because of this process, there is improvement in the quality of student work. My students have commented on the value of actually reading the feedback, considering what it means to their continued learning, and applying feedback guidance on subsequent assignments.

Student Reflection Form

Written for a student audience. See the Google Doc version to adapt.

Considering Information about My Learning from Written Feedback

Taking the time to analyze written feedback (or at least be more systematic about gaining information from written feedback) gives you clues to:

  • Determine how you are doing and where you are in relation to course goals/objectives
  • Clarify what good performance is
  • Obtain useful information about your learning
  • Identify weaknesses in your learning so you can do something about these

One of the things we know from research on student learning is that when students reflect, they improve on subsequent assignments and experiences. 

Take a moment to read through your writing assignment. Use the guiding statements to aid you in learning something about your learning. (You will find a blank copy of the rubric for this assignment at the end of this document.)

This will be added to your file folder creating a collection on how you are developing. This will give you the opportunity to separate your reflections on this instance of feedback from the actual score on the assignment rubric so that you can distance yourself from the first thoughts you got when receiving the feedback, and move toward finding the trends that will enable you to continuously adjust your learning approaches.

Feedback Reflection Form

Overview of All Feedback Comments

Most significant feedback comments:

What this means to me:

Note Recurring Trends in the Feedback

Things I can do to build on the positive feedback in my future work:

Things I can do to address the critical feedback in my future work:


Most important thing for me to keep doing in my future work on the basis of this feedback:

Most important thing for me to improve in my future work on the basis of this feedback:

References and Resources 

Blum, S., Ed (2020). Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead). West Virginia Press. The OU community can access the Ungrading book through Kresge Library.

Butler, R., & Nisan, M. (1986). Effects of no feedback, task-related comments, and grades on intrinsic motivation and performanceJournal of Educational Psychology, 78(3), 210–216.

Edinburgh, Scotland: Heriot-Watt University. Making a feedback action plan. (n.d.).

See CETL's Authentic Assessment Resources

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Rebecca Clemente of North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. Edited and designed by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NCView all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.