The Value of 24 Hours in Passing Back Graded Work

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received as a new teacher was from a senior colleague who listened to me express anxiety about handing back graded papers to my class.  She looked at me and said, “Why don’t you just deploy the ‘24-hour rule’?”  I looked at her blankly and she explained that she told her students that it was her policy not to discuss their papers/tests/projects with them until 24 hours after they had received them.  She insisted it significantly reduced the number of concerned students following her back to her office wanting an explanation for this or that part of their grade.

I tried it and I’ve never looked back.  When I pass back assignments, I tell students that I spent time commenting on and evaluating their work and that, therefore, I’d ask that they take 24 hours to try to understand my comments before they come to see me about them.  I reassure them that I welcome their visits during office hours, that I’m happy to work with them to understand why they earned the grade that they did, and that I’m more than willing to help them figure out how to do better on the next assignment, but that they need to read over all my comments and they need time to do that.  Thankfully, I still have students come talk to me about their performance and how they can improve it (and I am genuinely glad they do so), but what I don’t have are the numerous questions that are largely an emotional reaction to the grade (separate from the whole of my comments and evaluation).  In talking to a few students about this practice over the years, I’ve been told that the time allowed them to process the comments and the grade.

By the way, I never call it a “one-day rule”.  It shouldn’t make a difference, but somehow it does.  Perhaps it is just that I like the way that “24 hours” stresses again the time that I’ve put into commenting on their work, and the time that I’m asking them to put into understanding why they earned the grade that they did.

What about you?  How do you deal with passing back graded work?  [Or if you're a student, how do you want faculty to address graded work?]

[Photo by Flickr user RecycledStarDust; Creative Commons licensed]


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