Advice for Responding to Student Writing
Reinforce your objectives when you respond. If you emphasize critical thinking or personal reflection but respond only to grammar errors, students will become confused about your objectives. Consider using a grading rubric when you respond to reinforce your objectives. Providing example "A" essays, or critiquing less developed essays, can also help you reinforce your objectives.
- Respond as an interested reader. In most school writing situations instructors play the role of examiner. Ideally, we should respond to students the way we would want someone to respond to our own writing: as a thoughtful, engaged, and interested reader.
- Avoid being overly
directive. Sometimes we have a tendency to just rewrite the student's paper for
her in our response. Consider posing comments as questions, or soften
comments by using language such as "Consider" or "You might" instead
of "You need to."
Respond to both strengths and weaknesses. Students can become disheartened if they only receive criticism. Constructive criticism is important, but consider beginning your comments by noting the strengths of the paper. This gives students confidence.
Don't try to respond to every issue you see in the essay. Research in composition studies has shown that students become overwhelmed and confused if instructors respond to more than three or four of the most important revision strategies for an essay.
Avoid vague or generic comments. We ask our students to be specific in their writing, so we should be specific in our comments. Generic or vague comments such as "awk" or "not developed" often leave students confused and frustrated. Consider the difference between "awk" and "I'm confused by your argument about performance art in this sentence. Are you agreeing or disagreeing with the author's view?"
When you do respond to grammar, don't try to point out every error. Look for patterns of error, and ask students to learn to recognize their error patterns and learn to edit their own writing. Research in composition studies has shown that students need more than one semester to make significant improvements in grammar, and reading (not correcting errors marked by instructors) is the primary way students can improve their grammar. The Writing Center can also help students learn to recognize their own patterns of error.
Deploy techniques to make sure students are thoughtfully considering your comments. Consider focusing the majority of comments on ungraded drafts and allowing rewrites or using portfolio assessment, asking students to reflect on your responses, and/or asking them to incorporate your advice in the next essay.