Pat Zukowski

Below you will find some examples of how I introduce different feedback techniques to my English 112 class. Some of these we will model together. The pace at which you move from descriptive feedback to evaluative feedback is up to you, but I suggest that for the first half of the class you focus on descriptive feedback, sneaking in a slightly evaluative question here and there. During the second half the class, I place more emphasis on criterion-based feedback, but at the same time, I shift responsibility to the students to elicit the level and kind of response they wish to receive from their peers. Please refer to Elbow and Belanoff, Sharing and Responding, for additional information and ideas for structuring feedback.

PEER RESPONSE: NON-EVALUATIVE, DESCRIPTIVE FEEDBACK

Use this for initial training, modeling peer response with entire class, and make it the dominant mode of discussion in the early part of the course. I use some variation on these techniques for the first half of the class.

Example:

DIRECTIONS FOR PEER RESPONSE: Each group member will read his/her paper aloud twice during this session. During the first reading, group members should listen carefully to get an overall sense of the piece. After the first reading, take a few minutes to jot dovm general impressions and areas of the paper you would like to comment on. During the second reading, you should listen for specifics that will assist you in using the descriptive feedback techniques listed below. Please respond to each paper by writing a letter to the author that includes rich examples of the types of descriptive feedback listed below. Please don't forget to sign your letter. After making your written responses, make sure your group discusses each paper in terms of this descriptive feedback.

  1. Sayback: What do you hear the writer saying? Almost saying? Trying to say?
  2. Pointing: What parts of the essay a word, phrase, idea, section remain most memorable for you?
  3. Questions: After listening to the paper, what questions would you like to ask the author? Let the author know through questions what you would still like to understand about the subject of the paper.

PEER RESPONSE: ADDITIONAL DESCRIPTIVE FEEDBACK MODES

Example: Descriptive Feedback: (I use this for the Mid-Process Draft, Essay 2).

Today, I would like each responder to read group members' essays quietly, to themselves. This will enable us to linger on the text more and appreciate its patterns and structures. In addition to doing sayback, pointing, and questions on this new draft, I would like to add some other types of description that should prove useful to the authors. Meaningful information about style, structure, and development can be gained simply by describing various features of the text.

  1. How many paragraphs are in the essay?
  2. How many sentences are in each paragraph?
  3. Is there a general pattern to the structure of the sentences? Short? Long? Do sentences seem to fall into the same patterns? Or are there a large variety of structures? Average variety? Give some examples to support your opinion.
  4. Characterize the language used in the essay? Does it seem more abstract (idea oriented) rather than concrete (image oriented)? Is the language more direct or more complex? Words generally short or long?

Give examples. After you analyze the essay's structural features, please proceed with doing sayback, pointing, and questions. Pay particular attention to the degree of analysis the author has used in explaining the importance of this memory in his or her life. Also, note which details seem to be most relevant to the analysis. Keep in mind that the most successful essays will strike a fairly even balance between description and analysis, and that details should be consciously chosen to point up the significance of the memory. Write responses as fully as possible in the space below and on the back of this sheet and then discuss your responses to the essays as a group.

INTRODUCING CRITERION-BASED FEEDBACK

At this juncture, it is important to model evaluative feedback with the entire class. I find it is safer to practice with a piece of my own writing or an essay from a student outside the class (make sure you have the student's permission to use the essay for training). Remember the goal remains to be respectful and supportive and not to violate the trust of the community.

Example:

  1. What is the main point of the essay? What seem to be the goals of the writer? What is the center of gravity of the paper, the theme that holds the paper together and makes sense of all the material in it? How has the author linked material in the paper to make the center of gravity clear? If it is not clear, how might s/he bring the main idea to the forefront?
  2. Identify what you see as the most engaging section of the paper. Explain to the author why you find this section effective. What mood or tone does the author seem to convey in the piece?
  3. Identify a sentence, group of sentences, or paragraph you would like to see stated differently, and offer an alternative revision in the space below.
  4. Provide the author with two suggestions you believe would make the paper clearer (or more enjoyable or more convincing, etc.).

SHIFTING RESPONSIBILITY

Through process writing about a current draft, I begin to move students into taking responsibility for eliciting feedback on their papers. Ultimately, they should be able to ask a series of meaningful questions that will lead responders to make useful suggestions for revision.

Example: The main goals of class today are to think carefully about your current draft of our assignment. I want you first to reflect on your text and write a letter to your peer responders explaining the following: Explain what goal you have in mind for the essay. What are you trying to accomplish in this paper? Explain the strategies you have used to get the reader's attention and involve them in the text. What strategies have you used to deliver your message to the reader? Explain what the most difficult aspect of composing the text was for you and why. How did you overcome this difficulty? If you haven't yet, what ideas do you have for working out your problem. Explain why you chose the particular formats you did for your introduction and conclusion. Explain what you would most like to know about your peer responder's reaction to your paper. Point to a particular section or a particular strategy you would like feedback on.

When you have finished analyzing your own text, please proceed with exchanging papers within your group. Peer responders should read the text of the essay carefully and first write their own response to the paper before reading your letter. Ultimately, they will compare their own response to the paper and evaluate how close or far their own reaction is to the intentions you set our in your letter. They should also make suggestions for alternative strategies for your introduction and conclusion and answer your final question: what feedback you would most like from them.

(For a fifty-minute class, you will probably need to limit this to one student exchanging his or her paper with a partner.)