Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Feedback & Grading > Low-Stakes Assignments
As Vincent Tinto writes in
Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action (2012), "To be effective, assessments must be frequent, early, and formative." At colleges and universities recognized by the National Survey on Student Engagement for their success in promoting student's active engagement in their learning: "Feedback from faculty to students is timely and frequent, as documented both by NSSE data and by interviews with students and faculty members" (Kuh, et al. 2010).
Low-stakes assignments tend to work best when they generate formative feedback regarding where students are in the course, what they are doing well, and where they may need development to ultimately succeed in the class. At DePaul, there is a general expectation that students will be given feedback early in the quarter or term, and low-stakes assignments are a powerful method of doing so.
For students in their first year, whether as freshmen or transfers, such feedback is especially important in order to help them understand the expectations at DePaul. Early feedback also enables faculty to use
DePaul's BlueStar system to identify students who may need additional assistance and share that information with the students and their academic advisors.
While all classes can benefit from frequent low-stakes assignments, it's especially important in online and Flex modalities. In a face-to-face classroom, instructors may assess student learning in informal ways using nonverbal cues—a puzzled look or an affirming nod, for example. In a online and Flex courses, instructors may have more difficulty picking up these cues from students, especially if they don't always have their cameras on or you're not meeting synchronously. In Flex classes, it can also be more challenging to pick up on nonverbal cues among in-person students if also trying to monitor engagement and participation among remote students at the same time.
D2L tools will help you to implement low-stakes assignments in all types of courses and course modalities.
Quizzes are often used for multiple-choice or other objective question types because they can be graded automatically, allowing students to get feedback immediately. For low-stakes assignments, you may want to allow students to review the questions and their answers after they take the quiz. You can set up
Submission Views to allow for this. Instructors can also
view quiz statistics to see if the class is struggling with a particular concept and review that topic with them.
Discussions allow students to share short pieces of writing or other media with you and their classmates. They work well for sharing rough drafts or other early-stage components of larger projects for peer review or for certain journaling assignments.
Submission folders allow students to submit work privately to you. You may be used to using Submissions for major assignments like research papers. For shorter, less formal pieces of writing, you can change the Submission Type to “Text” to allow students to type their response directly into D2L rather than uploading a file from their computer.
Though given less weight, low-stakes assignments may be similar in type and kind to high-stakes assignments: they tend to reflect the kind of work students are going to be expected to do for a final exam, paper, or other summative project.
When assigning students a writing or research project, break down the elements of the project and use one or more as a low-stakes assignment. Require students to submit their works-in-progress so that they can receive early written feedback and a small grade, which could consist simply of a check or check-minus. Any one (or more) of the following elements could be collected and used as a low-stakes assignment:
Midway through a writing project, have students bring a full or partial draft of their paper to class and then exchange feedback with a peer. Students will receive valuable feedback that they can use to revise their work.
Try providing students with a rubric to help them give their peers targeted, assignment-specific feedback. Also, consider inviting Writing Center tutors to your class to model how peer review can be conducted effectively.
Around midterm or during the planning stages of a major course project, ask students to meet with you for conferences. If the class is too large for you to meet with each student individually, assign students to meet with you in groups, or one-on-one with their TA. The conference time might be dedicated to discussing the students’ progress towards course goals or providing feedback on a particular project.
To get the most out of your conference time, ask students to complete and bring with them a self-assessment form or project proposal. Alternatively, ask students to write down one question they have about the course, content covered in class, or an assignment they are currently working on. Having a document to reference will keep the conversation on track and help put both you and your students at ease.
When students are working in groups, require them to submit a statement outlining each group members’ responsibilities and/or a timeline that measures their progress. Periodically throughout the group project, ask students to submit short reflections detailing their progress and any areas where they need support.
For a course where exams are the primary means of summative assessment, give students a quiz at the end of each week with questions based on content covered up to that point. Although the quiz might not count for credit (or might only count for a very small portion of the final grade), it will give students an idea of what they already learned and which concepts they need to spend more time with. Quizzes can be paper-based, conducted during class using Polling or posted online in D2L Quizzes.
In a course where students learn new computational or mathematical concepts, have a problem posted on the board or screen at the start of each class, or in a collaborative document. Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to find the solution. Spend part of class going over the problem as a big group, or review the problem in a short video.
Consider having students keep a regular journal where they can engage with and apply course concepts. For example, in an Introduction to Political Science course, ask students to read the politics section of the New York Times and keep a weekly concept-application journal. For each entry, students should select one article that they read, summarize it, and show how the article demonstrates a theoretical concept discussed that week in class. Review students’ journals every other week or so and give each entry brief feedback.
In a course where students are required to do weekly readings, assign a reading journal. Entries might require students to summarize and respond to the source, or to answer a set of questions provided by the instructor. Students can submit their journal entries through D2L, by handing in hard copies every other week, or by posting them on a course blog.
Give students a prompt that corresponds to a class reading assignment, concept, or activity and have them turn in a short written response. Return the students’ responses with your brief feedback, indicating whether the students are on track or not (a simple “check plus” or “check minus” could be used). In large classes where you might not have time to give individualized written feedback to each student, share and discuss one or two anonymous students responses at the next class meeting or in a D2L News item or weekly introduction.
Post open-ended questions designed to promote engagement with the current course content or an upcoming project or assignment. Invite students to ask questions and identify areas of confusion, and answer the questions posted by their peers. See Facilitating Discussions for additional suggestions.
Discuss how you can incorporate writing in a low-stakes assignment by contacting
Matthew Pearson, Director of the UCWbL. You can also
invite peer tutors to your classroom to demonstrate effective peer review before having your own students give feedback to one another.
If you’re interested in using an element of a research project as a means of giving early feedback to students, connect with a
university librarian. University librarians can offer feedback and resources for designing research projects for students.
Have a question about integrating discussion forums in your classes? Not sure which platform might be best for setting up a course blog? Contact the CTL for help identifying and implementing a technology tool to help meet your goals.
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