We know that assessment tasks can show us how effectively a student has adopted and applied their knowledge in a particular course. But law school is a process of ongoing development, not unconnected ‘checkpoints’. Assessment tasks provide opportunities to give students constructive feedback on a diverse range of skills applicable across law school and even into their post-graduation careers. By providing feedback to students about where they currently stand, where they need to be and then show them how to get there, feedback can illuminate a path to improving performance. Here’s four steps for good law school feedback.
These four steps can provide a plan for feedback comments. They are scalable. Time and the length of the assessment will dictate how detailed explanations will need to be.
1. Focus on the marking criteria
Making sure that feedback addresses the relevant marking criteria ensures that the marking process is transparent and consistent. Students aren’t left wondering whether other expectations were not made explicit. Other markers can be confident that they are doing the same as their peers. It also makes the process of moderating easier—a second marker coming to the assessment later will be able to see how the original marker applied the criteria.
2. Explain where the student has done well (met the expectations)
The student needs to be able to understand why they got the mark they received. Identifying how a student’s work has met particular expectations is an essential part of the feedback. If they are doing something well, that also needs to be identified so that the student knows that they should keep doing it.
But that’s not the end of the process…
3. Explain why the work didn’t get a higher mark
The student also needs to understand why they didn’t meet the expectations for a higher mark. Together with the last step, they need to know why their work was, for example, better than a pass but did not meet the expectations of a distinction.
Some law students often react poorly to negative feedback. They might see it as failure—they perceive their abilities as fixed and negative feedback reinforces their shortcomings. If the purpose of feedback is to provide advice on how to improve performance, then there is an additional step to make sure that is communicated.
4. Choose an example of where the work could be enhanced and how
Choose an example of an issue which, if addressed, would push the work into a higher mark category—something that the marker thought affected the outcome tangibly and materially by reference to the marking criteria—and then explain how the student could improve it.
It may mean changing the perspective of the comment. For example, ‘I didn’t understand’ could be ‘It would allow the reader to understand if the writing …’. Alternatively, change ‘The structure was not logical’ to ‘A better way to have structured the piece would be … because …’.
These four steps for good law school feedback are just one model. But what’s key is that actionable, specific and clear feedback means that students understand not only their current mark but also how they can continue to improve their performance.