Do they care about all this time I spend giving feedback?

Every semester I have taught, I have a conversation with my spouse that goes something like this:

Me: Ugh. I hate grading
Spouse: Don’t you want to teach for a living?
Me: Yes! But, it takes forever because I give so much feedback. I want students to know that I care and how to improve for next time.
Spouse: That’s cute. Your students don’t care. They want the grade so they can move on with their lives. Just give them the grade so you can move on with yours.

Every single semester. Am I delusional? Narcissistic perhaps? Do they genuinely care about my random comments about the content or how to demonstrate critical thinking further? Or do they just want to know why they got points off?

Kohn (2011) makes a case against grades, as students’ interest in learning is diminished and reinforces the desire to complete the easiest task. Further, quality of thinking is reduced when grades are given. Dan Pink (2009) reiterates this phenomenon in businesses that provide monetary incentives for completion of tasks. In several studies outlined by Pink, providing incentives for tasks involving anything above mechanical skill (simple if-then tasks) leads to poorer performance. This is completely contrary to everything economists have always hypothesized. Indeed, my fear of removing individual grades would lead to students never turning in their assignments. I know I’ve been there myself as a student. With so many balls in the air, why would I try to juggle one more thing that I won’t get any credit for?

Instead of motivating through incentives, Pink argues that we need to be thinking about how to motivate through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I completely agree with this line of thinking. The “volunteer” work I’ve done throughout my time as a graduate student has fit into one of these three ideas. If I have control over my own actions, I can increase my skills, or I feel that I am making the world a better place, I am motivated to use my precious “extra” time to do these tasks.

This does help me conceptualize the reduction of grades in my classes. But only to a small degree. There is a very real tension between a teaching philosophy that minimizes grades and a university that demands them. As an instructor of record, I am expected to administer exams of some sort. In an online class, that historically equates to multiple choice exams. I HATE multiple choice exams. They don’t test for learning. Instead, I prefer to place more emphasis on the discussion boards and application assignments that I assign. But these have rubrics that are assessing for specific competencies, like critical thinking and attention to context. Lombardi (2008) offers excellent suggestions for rubrics that include such competencies, so I believe I am on the right track.

But I am still left wondering…..Do my students care about my feedback? Or just the grade at the end of the day? What if they do? What if they don’t? How do we, as instructors, foster motivation through autonomy, mastery, and purpose? What would this look like?

I hope I don’t have to tell my spouse she’s right….I hate it when that happens.



Kohn, A. (2011). The case against grades. Retrieved from

Lombardi, M. (2008). Making the grade: The role of assessment in authentic learning. Retrieved from

Pink, D. (2009, August 25). The puzzle of motivation [Video File]. Retrieved from


6 thoughts on “Do they care about all this time I spend giving feedback?

  1. Thanks for sharing. I believe that you have the same concern that many of us have: how do we balance a more sustainable method of helping them improve and giving them feedback while also managing our workload and student expectations? I think it is important to consider whether “we” (societally speaking) have every truly given them the opportunity to care about anything other than grades.

    For instance, we are starting to learn that if we put the grade at the top of the page or anywhere particularly visible, they will likely go directly there and avoid the comments we may write. I am not sure if I have a more suitable alternative in regards to grade displacement. Ideally, many of us (but not all) would prefer to eliminate the grading system altogether, but for now are looking for more creative ways of resisting from within.

    As of now, I do my best to make class “performance” predicated off of material understanding rather than retention to the best of my ability. I try to guide them early on into noting that there are few, if any, ways to “just make the grade” and hopefully redirect their attention, even though I certainly don’t subscribe to any expectation that they will change so suddenly. I do think the comments and deep feedback matter, whether they desire it or not. It certainly matters to us if anything else. The trick is knowing whether it is manageable and compatible with administrative expectations.


  2. I understand your point. It’s a matter of cultural change not just a simple act of change in method. As you mentioned the university and the whole academic culture is functioning based on the concept of some sort of grade, comparison, ranking. Also, students don’t know why they would do anything if it’s not graded UNLESS they do really care about it. But are we providing the safe and comfortable enough environment for students to have space to explore and discover? Maybe is not only about grading or not, maybe we should adopt a whole new approach to education.


  3. I’m never the one to know answers for sure. I wonder however, what would happen in your class if you ask them whether your feedback is valued, needed…however you wanted to phrase that. I think you’d probably get a wide range. Now if you want them to care about the feedback you give then what do you do? How would you alter or fine tune the way you facilitate learning in your classes for that?…Probably more questions than answers….sorry!


  4. I really enjoyed reading your blog post. My roommate is a GTA and she experiences the same thing every time she grades. If she offers her students that chance to resubmit work after taking her feedback into account, most of her class will just change a few sentences and hope that they will see a dramatic increase in their grade. Unfortunately, it seems like until the culture of the grading system changes most undergraduate students just care about the final grade.


  5. I think that some care and some don’t. But from my experiences so far, letter grades and scores still prevail. I’m also thinking that they may care more about feedback if an opportunity to redo an assignment is available.


  6. I believe the question you posed about whether or not students care about feedback is important and worthy to explore. From my personal experience I can tell absolutely yes, there are some exceptions nevertheless. Thinking about myself as a student and my experience as teacher, I think if student sees her teacher as an individual who cares about her success, she would express more willingness to care and reflect on feedback; though the quality and extent of feedback is completely different issue that may influence this process. Also I remember students who reflected on their experience with me and explicitly appreciated the feedback in teaching evaluation.


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