Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

Students complain about grades.

Students don’t realize that they failed to fully address the task or that they misunderstood the task.

This can happen when they don’t take the time to adequately assess the task or when they fail to monitor their progress. These are metacognitive processes that novice students are often lacking and can lead them to believe they performed better than they did. Students’ prior experiences and knowledge can also lead them to misinterpret the demands of the task. For example, freshmen often enter university with only creative or expository writing experience and hence may fail to realize that an interpretation/argument paper for history requires a different approach.


Provide students with aids that help them assess the task and monitor their performance.

Give students a checklist that breaks down the task into its various components and require students to include their checked off list when they turn in the assignment. This will ensure that they addressed the components of the task and monitored their progress. When giving feedback, refer to the checklist if appropriate – did they forget to include an item or fail to complete it? Did they not follow the instructions for how to address the component?

Use rubrics.

Having a clear performance standard makes it easier for students to see in advance what an assignment requires and what aspects you are emphasizing. Performance rubrics list the various dimensions on which you are evaluating their work and can highlight how these dimensions are combined to produce a final grade for the given project. For example, a rubric could identify four dimensions of grading and specify that the first two are critical (i.e., one cannot garner an A without high quality on both) and that the second two are less so. While creating a high-quality rubric can involve an initial investment of time, instructors who have developed good rubrics generally find that they expedite the grading process and communicate to students what is valued. As a result, students tend to work more effectively because they know the target they are aiming for. Also, students learn where their grade will be coming from, so they are less likely to be surprised.

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