Responding to Feedback via a Cover Letter
Briefly described: The main assignment is a traditional research paper, in this case one for a psychology research methods course. Drafts of each of the paper’s four main sections are due separately and returned with teacher feedback. The final version of the paper is submitted with a cover letter that addresses how the student responded to instructor-provided feedback on the various paper sections.
Problems the assignment addresses:
- The inclination of students to see the grade as the only feedback that matters
- The failure of students to carefully consider feedback provided by the instructor
- The failure of students to use feedback to improve the next draft or next paper
Learning skills the assignment promotes:
- Encourages students to reflect on feedback, to think about what it means and what its implications might be
- Gives students experience acting on feedback, attempting to make changes that address and fix problems, and making revisions that strengthen the paper
- Gives students practice responding to feedback; identifying the changes they’ve made and explaining how those changes address problems described in the feedback
Details and logistics: Each of the four sections in this paper are submitted during the course, graded, and returned with instructor feedback provided in five areas relevant to research papers in psychology.
Instructions for writing the cover letter are provided. Students are to synthesize instructor feedback on the four sections and then share “detailed explanations” of how that feedback was “incorporated” (p. 65) in the final draft. They are also given examples of good and bad cover letters. The cover letter is graded separately, and not as part of the final paper.
The authors note that using cover letters like these “is a relatively easy addition to any course that requires writing.” (p. 67) They see it as an assignment that validates the time and effort it takes teachers to provide students with detailed feedback.
Evidence of the assignment’s effectiveness: Thirty-two students prepared and submitted cover letters; 36 students (the control group) wrote the research paper in sections, got feedback, and wrote a final draft of the paper but without the cover letter. A combined percentage score was calculated for the graded draft sections so it could be compared with the final paper percentage grade. A quality check of the instructor’s final paper grade was provided by another instructor who assessed the papers, blind to whether a cover letter had been written or not. The results showed that students who wrote cover letters “tended to have higher improvement scores than students who did not write the cover letters.” (p. 66)
Citation: Daniel, F., Gaze, C. M., and Braasch, J. (2015). Writing cover letters that address instructor feedback improves final papers in a research methods course. Teaching of Psychology, 42 (1), 64-68.
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