Responding to Student Writing
Below are some simple tips for responding to student writing:
- Try to shift feedback approaches, whether the feedback is from you or from student peers, to a more growth-oriented paradigm. Focus on whether or not a student is explaining him- or herself clearly and making effective connections. The main issue is one of clear communication, not correctness. When responding to student writing, deal with the ideas first, asking yourself whether the author was successful in communicating his or her message. Issues of mechanics can be dealt with afterwards. For certain types of written work (e.g., journals), mechanics and spelling should not even be graded. Establish a clear sense (both for yourself and your students) what you are looking for in each writing assignment and what aspects will receive attention.
- You don't have to become a walking encyclopedia of grammatical rules and terminology in order to help students with their writing. As a well-educated individual, you know when a piece of writing works well or misses the mark. Frequently, a straightforward comment couched in terms of how you as the reader are experiencing the writing can be more effective than a directive to fix a misplaced modifier or an inappropriate use of a prepositional phrase. Although it can be helpful to know some of the technical terms, remember that, while you might feel insecure and uncomfortable discussing the finer points of grammar, your students are, in general, even more uncomfortable.
- You don't have to mark every mechanical or spelling error. In fact, a paper that is awash in red ink will likely result not in substantial improvement. The author may not know where to start to address all the writing problems you've detailed. Instead, focus on the two or three issues that, if the student could address them effectively, a significant improvement would result. If you want to highlight specific mechanical errors, you can focus on a single page or paragraph.
- Allow opportunities for students to revise before grading.
- Provide opportunities for students to give feedback to each other before getting response from you, the instructor.
- Be sure students will understand the reasons for your comments (whether critical or complimentary). When it comes to grading, be especially sure students understand your criteria for effective writing.
- Use a consistent symbol system for responding. If time permits, ask brief questions in the margins that prompt students' thinking about how to express themselves more clearly, use words more precisely, correct sentence structures, and so forth.
- Avoid editing students' papers. Coach them. Encourage pro-action in improving their writing.