The best case scenario of Assignment Feedback and how LMS’s compare in allowing it to happen.

Much has been written about Feedback and it’s role in improving teaching and learning. It is rated number  one on the list of 34 interventions  listed on evidence for learning. With low cost to implement, improving feedback is a high leverage strategy.

But how do we do it effectively?

I want to look at “the best case scenario” for feedback to students before, during and after a major assignment;  an assignment that acts both as a summative assessment task to measure level of performance and as a formative assessment where the students are able to incrementally improve the quality of their work.

Examples of such an assignment are:

  • A prac report or research investigation in science.
  • An essay in English
  • A research assignment in History on “The causes of the Vietnam War”
  • A maths problem solving task, eg “How big a water tank is needed to collect all rainfall for a month from our school roofs”

I am referring to a task that would take students multiple lessons to complete.

Sometimes it is helpful to look at what not to do. The worst case scenario looks a bit like this.

  1. Teacher designs an assignment with what the students need to do.
  2. Teacher sets the assignment without discussing how the assignment will be assessed.
  3. Students complete what they think the assignment wants them to do and submit it.
  4. Teacher gives feedback on the assignment with comments and a final grade
  5. Teacher gives the assignment back to the students.
  6. Students look at the final grade, ignores the comments and moves on.

You have probably seen assignments like this. You may have been on the receiving end of them at school or university.  It is a case where the student needs to “Guess what’s in the teacher’s head.” The success criteria are a secret that will be revealed only after the assignment is completed.

When the student gets the task back it says “7 out of 10. Good work. You could have included more detail in the section on …… Include a list of references with your assignment.Research suggests that most students don’t look beyond the 7 out of 10. When students receive feedback in the form of grades and comments they invariably focus on the grades and often ignore the comments.

I don’t know many teachers who have not had the deflating experience of working late at night providing comments and suggestions for improvement on student’s assignments. The next day in class they return the assignments to their students.

What they usually hear from students. “What did you get?”.

“7 out of 10” is the response as the assignment is shoved into the folder, comments unread.

“Why did I bother?” A common complaint from teachers is, “The students don’t even read the feedback. They just focus on the grade. Then they make the same mistakes next time.” How do we get students to read our comments and act on them?

I have been investigating different Learning Management Systems recently. Edumate has an excellent white paper on Student Feedback and Progressive Reporting. The problem of students not reading feedback was cleverly addressed by Edumate using this Progressive Reporting Model.


While this model feedback loop is effective it could be even better if the student does a self assessment before the assignment is submitted.

The ideal assessment and feedback for a major assignment would look like this:

  1. Develop Assessment Criteria with the students.This is the ideal case but is a time-consuming process. If time is tight, giving students an Assessment rubric you have already written is adequate, but don’t skimp on step three below.
  2. Put Assessment Criteria into a rubric format. 
  3. Publish the rubric and assignment details to students and parents. Be sure students understand what is required prior to starting the task. In the best case scenario you would also provide exemplars so students can actually see what success looks like.
  4. Students complete the assignment referring to assessment rubric regularly during completion. Teacher frames formative feedback using the assessment rubric. For example “Look at the rubric. Have you identified the independent and dependent variables?”
  5. When the student submits the completed assignment they self assess against the assessment rubric. Self assessment must be completed as part of the final submission process. Ideally the LMS you are using supports clickable and commentable rubrics like Moodle and Canvas do.
  6. Teacher assesses the assignment using rubric and also gives student descriptive feedback.The teacher is able to see the students self assessment as they are completing their teacher assessment. Feedback is focused on around how the student can improve in the future. It needs to be in language the student can understand. For a comprehensive study of effective feedback see Focus on Formative Feedback.
  7. Teacher’s comments and rubric feedback are released to student without a grade.
  8. Student must respond to teacher’s written feedback with some reflection on the feedback and how they will adopt these recommendations in the future.
  9. When student has completed their reflection on the teacher feedback the final grade is released to the student and the parent.

That is the “best case scenario”. Hattie uses the term “assessment capable learners” to describe what we are trying to produce here. An “assessment capable learner” is one who uses the assessment criteria to hone in on what actually needs to be demonstrated and learned in completing an assignment. An assessment capable learner also responds to teacher feedback in a way that improves their performance in the future. 

My  Learning Management Systems research has shown how close to this ideal assignment feedback sequence we can get . The news is not good.

None will get us all the way there yet.


Canvas Compass Edumate


Create an assessment rubric in the LMS




No but can set up outcomes checklist from Curriculum Continuum No but can set up outcomes checklist from Curriculum Continuum
Student able to self assess against the rubric in the LMS at the time of submission Only if you use the workshop module not the assignment module.


No No


Teacher sees student self assessment when grading.


No No No


Teacher able to grade against the rubric in the LMS


Yes Yes No


Teacher able to release “comment only” assessment feedback to students before releasing the grades. Yes but then must go back in to regrade assignment to show grade. ???




LMS able to require student to complete reflection on teacher feedback before final grade is released.


No No Yes





“Creating Assessment-Capable Learners.” Education Week. Web. 20 July 2016.

“Helping Great Practice Become Common Practice.” Evidence for Learning. Web. 20 July 2016.

“Is the Feedback You’re Giving Students Helping or Hindering?” Learning Sciences Dylan Wiliam Center. Web. 20 July 2016.

“Student Feedback and Progressive Reporting – What Parents Say.” Education Advances. Web. 20 July 2016.

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