Responding to Student Writing

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Responding to Student Writing

In recent years, research has confirmed what teachers already know. Providing effective and meaningful feedback enhances student learning and improves student achievement. Here are a few points to keep in mind when responding to student writing.

Best Practices that will prove you are an experienced teacher of writing

  • Read to understand, not to find flaws.
  • Read in large units of text instead of one sentence at a time and stopping in mid-sentence to correct.
  • Comment on both strengths and weaknesses.
  • After you’ve read the essay once through without marking it, choose the two or three most important components to focus on in a global comment placed at the beginning or end of the paper.
  • Insert selective marginal comments, questions, and praise that backs up the global comment.
  • Give out rubrics and other grading criteria before you grade anything.
  • Discuss and respond to your students’ writing early on to achieve stronger writing down the line.
  • Create assignments that focus on particular skills and limit your comments to the success of those skills.
  • Ask insightful, thought provoking questions when making marginal comments.
  • Use a respectful tone.
  • Don’t use red ink. That makes students feel that their paper is being corrected rather than responded to.

Commenting Gets Easier

Commenting on a student’s paper may seem difficult and time consuming but it will become easier and faster over time.

Encourage Students to Improve Their Own Writing

It is usually not a good idea to correct students’ papers for syntax and grammar errors. Even though it is tempting to do so at times, it takes up more of your time and it takes away the important revising process for the student. If a paper contains many of these errors, one option is to simply return the paper to the student for them to fix it. Another option is to circle the error without fixing it or give grammatical help on a sample paragraph instead of the whole paper. Student’s won’t learn if you fix their mistakes for them.

Not All Writing Pieces Need the Same Level Feedback  

Low-stakes writing assignments usually don’t need the same amount of commentary as a final exam paper. Help students focus on one aspect of their writing at a time by giving them an overall comment on a specific issue.

The Proper Amount of Feedback

Overdoing the commenting and line editing results in disunited and confusing feedback. Your comments on student writing should clearly reflect the hierarchy of issues you have with the paper. Students can be easily overwhelmed by too many comments. They may not be able to distinguish high-priority comments from lower priority comments. They may spend their time revising trivial errors without addressing the more important structural problems. Instead of making lengthy detailed comments in the margins, try creating comments that address one or two large problems in the paper. This doesn’t mean you have to accept poor grammar or sentence structure. You can point these out to your students and give them the responsibility for finding and correcting the problems.

Creating rubrics

Grading of a student’s writing starts with assignment creation, because that is the best time to determine what you want students to achieve with this assignment. When creating a larger or more proper assignment, it is wise to create a performance rubric that adequately specifies the expectations you have for the writing piece. A rubric establishes pieces of the assignment such as: structure, logic, grammar and syntax. The rubric can then be used to show the student the level of mastery their paper reflects. This will help students have a better sense of the goals and therefore better self-assess their work and revise accordingly. 

Peer Review

Peer review is students reading and commenting on each other’s work. Reading classmate’s work can help students become better at pinpointing and fixing their own writing flaws. Conducting effective peer reviews takes careful planning on the part of the teacher because it can at times do more harm than good if done poorly.

Writing A Final Comment

Your final comment is your chance to not only critique the paper, but also to share your expectations for writing and how the student can write more effective papers in the future. When writing your final comment, you should reflect back on the paper’s main point. Doing this will show the student that you took the paper seriously and will also help you set up your comment. Discuss the essay’s strengths. Telling the student what they specifically did well will let them know to do it again next time. Discuss the paper’s weaknesses. Focus on the large problems at first. You don’t have to comment on every little issue in the paper. Lastly, type out your final comments if possible. If you handwrite them try writing as neatly as possible. The more readable your comments are, the more seriously your students will take them.

“Responding to Student Writing - Principles and Practices.” Responding to Student Writing - Principles and Practices | CRLT, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching,
“Responding to Student Writing.” Harvard Writing Project, Harvard University,
Carnegie Mellon University. “How Can I Effectively and Efficiently Respond to Student Writing?” Respond to Student Writing - Eberly Center - Carnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Mellon University,
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