One of the most important parts of teaching writing is providing effective feedback. Good feedback helps students see themselves as writers, inspires and provides guidance for revision, and prompts meta-awareness about their writing strategies. When teachers respond as interested readers and practiced writers, their feedback can help students think through the content and form of their writing. Ultimately, “effective feedback can tell students what they are or are not understanding, where their performance is going well or poorly, and how they should direct their subsequent efforts” (Ambrose et. al 137).
When approaching feedback, teachers might think about incorporating both global and local comments. Global comments are more holistic, responding to the entirety of a piece to offer students feedback on higher order issues like purpose, persuasiveness, attention to readers. Local comments can help target specific moments in the work for students to address--e.g., explaining a cited source more fully, clarifying a logical connection between two sentences. It is important to balance global and local feedback so that students can reflect holistically on their writing purpose, form, and readership and identify specific moments where they might attend to that holistic feedback.
The timing of feedback, on both drafts and final products, is also a key consideration. "Feedback should provide this information when students can make the most use of it, based on the learning goals and structure of activities you have set for them" (Ambrose et al. 138). Students need an opportunity to incorporate feedback and practice developing skills in their work. More substantial feedback on earlier drafts is a form of scaffolding, providing students with guidance to practice skills and incorporate the feedback in future versions of the text. Feedback on finalized assignments tend to be briefer, responding holistically and reflecting on writing practices that students might take to future writing; local comments are often less useful at this point since students will no longer be revising the piece.
Despite its many benefits for students, effective feedback remains a challenge for many. Writing teachers often struggle with managing the time devoted to giving students feedback. It can be helpful to think about feedback in stages and as a targeted process. For assessment of student work to be fair, effective, and efficient, and feedback, teachers can focus on what is being taught through the assignment goals and its related activities.
- What did students practice in preparation for this assignment, and what competencies or skills were prioritized during scaffolded in-class (or out-of-class) activities?
- What were the learning goals or objectives of the assignment?
- What important competencies or skills were you asking students to demonstrate?
Additionally, you’ll want to consider the assignment in relation to the larger course objectives: What did past assignments ask of students, and what was your feedback or intervention? What might future assignments ask of students?
- What mode will you use to communicate your feedback? (Consider using multiple modes as an inclusive teaching practice!)
- Rubrics: You can create rubrics when you design your assignment, or use these as an in-class activity and create them collaboratively with students.
- Oral/Spoken: Record your feedback for students using a phone voice recorder, Audacity, or some other tool.
- Digital: Transition from handwritten feedback to online or digital feedback using Word, Google Docs, or some other tool.
- In-Person Conferences: Meet with students 1-1 or hold small-group conferences to make feedback a personal (and shorter!) process.
- Narrative global comments: Consider offering students more global comments from a reader’s perspective, and limit your localized, in-text commenting.
- Rule of Three: Give selective feedback that can be addressed within given time and page space constraints.
- Students can typically take in three major feedback points. Identify the three most common or pressing patterns and target your feedback.
- Think about the assignment goals and scaffolded activities. What were the clearly identified expectations?
- Think about any peer review activities – what has already been addressed?
- Model strategies for revision that students can apply to the rest of their texts
- Use the first half or a portion of the students’ paper to model the writing patterns (e.g., paragraph development, grammar issue) you notice and how the student might address them. Students can then take this modeling and apply it to the rest of their work.
- Be specific and transparent. Make sure students know you’re only identifying patterns in a particular portion, and that others might exist.
- Consider providing students with additional resources to help them identify and revise these patterns across their writing.
- Do you find you’re giving the same comment 10, 15, or 20 times?: Decide when to address the whole class if many have the same revision needs and when to give individualized feedback.
- Use generalized feedback
- Develop a lesson or activity that helps students identify and revise for a particular pattern.
- Create a resource or handout that helps students identify and understand the pattern.
- Assign a peer-review activity focused around the pattern.
- Use generalized feedback
Ambrose, Susan et. al. “What Kinds of Practice and Feedback Enhance Learning?” How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Ebook, Jossey-Bass, 2010, pp. 121-52.
Bean, John C. “Part Four: Reading, Commenting On, and Grading Student Writing.” Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, 2nd Edition, Jossey-Bass, 2011, pp. 267-336.
Glenn, Cheryl and Melissa A. Goldthwaite “Evaluating Student Essays.” The St. Martin’s Guide to Teaching Writing, 7th Edition, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2014, pp. 125-60.
- Salahub, Jill. “Peer Review.” The WAC Clearinghouse, Colorado State University, 1994-2020, https://wac.colostate.edu/resources/writing/guides/peer-review/.