Response to Bean’s "Writing Comments on Students’ Papers"


For the most part, I found myself responding well to John C. Bean’s “Writing Comments on Students’ Papers” which begins: “Perhaps nothing involves us so directly in the messiness of teaching writing as our attempts to comment on our students’ essays”.  Bean’s article is certainly readable and his ideas were easy to follow. He articulates how easy it is, as a teacher, to forget that there is a person behind each essay that is being read (sometimes ripped apart for errors) and graded.  It’s also easy to forget, that as a writer, a strong feeling of vulnerability usually accompanies allowing someone to read your work—especially if that person is in a position to judge you. Bean advises teachers to be more mindful of the comments that they write on students papers because the worst comments can insult and even dehumanize a student.

I laughed out loud at some of the interviewed students’ responses to marginal comments. When a teacher wrote “Be more specific”, one response was “You be more specific”. Another student responded to the comment, “You haven’t really thought this through” with “How do you know what I thought?” It’s funny because when you really think about it, how illogical are these comments! How do you know what the student was thinking? (You don’t!)

The conclusions of the study, which Bean quoted, showed that negative comments “stifle further attempts at writing”. So how can we help students? Bean writes that it helps to point out what the writer is doing well. However, you can’t fabricate anything. The comments are only helpful if they are “truthful, and they must be very specific”. Bean goes on to note that current brain research stresses the correlation between emotions and learning. Fear, anxiety, and anger are learning blockers. Teachers should strive to build their students’ hope and confidence.

One way to improve the quality of comments is to use “mitigating” comments which frame criticism in a positive way. Bean gives two examples of end comments; I immediately responded positively to the mitigated comment. Therefore, it did not surprise me to learn that Smith’s study showed that students preferred mitigated comments as well. Bean writes, “To improve our techniques for commenting on our students’ papers, then, we need to remember our purpose, which is not to point out everything wrong with the paper but to facilitate improvement”. He proposes that teachers play two roles: at the drafting stage, teachers should be coaches. It is not until a student turns in a final draft that a teacher’s role shifts to that of a judge. Therefore, comments should guide revision, and comments should not appear until a late stage rough draft is produced. Commenting too early can interfere with creation of a good draft. Another alternative to commenting on late stage drafts is to allow for rewrites of final drafts.

Bean asserts that commenting in this way (to prompt revision) helps to change a teacher’s view as reader. He says, “You begin seeing yourself as responding to rather than correcting a set of papers”. I can see that reflected in the examples of marginal comments that Bean provides. Many of his comments are questions rather than statements. It conveys this idea of being a coach because it gives the sense that a conversation is taking place between the reader and the writer.

I also agree with Bean’s idea that in a rough draft, you don’t need to comment on everything and can limit your comments to a few things that the writer needs to work on. Teachers should read “for ideas rather than for errors”. Bean advises that you should coach through higher level concerns and then, after a good, successful draft is produced, for lower level concerns like sentence level errors such as spelling and grammar. I think that this is a great idea that benefits both students and teachers. If there are global issues, why bother correcting spelling errors?

Bean only lost me when he got to the section that explained his policy on “minimal marking” of sentence level errors. He says that it is most beneficial when students are told there are errors but must find and correct them themselves. Bean writes, “How high I raise the grade depends on how successful the student is in reducing the number of sentence errors”. Here, a teacher either puts a certain number of checkmarks to indicate how many errors are in a certain sentence, or the teacher simply states that there are errors somewhere in the paper. This is much too vague! And, it’s not helpful! I don’t agree with this policy at all. It seems like a waste of time for a student who will most likely end up scouring their paper for errors and second guessing every detail of their writing. I think that pointing out the error creates a learning experience. Furthermore, this policy assumes that all of the students are at the same level of understanding when it comes to style and mechanics. It’s just not likely that this is true…

Otherwise, I really enjoyed this article and I think that I took away some great ideas. I think this will really influence how I respond to students’ papers in the future.

Regarding the digital tools, I think that some of these are really great, and I look forward to using them in the future. However, I don’t know that any that I looked at would benefit this project. I like the idea of using Wix as a home for our collaborative project. I have an idea for my personal contribution, but I’m still working out the details.

Blog #5 – Reaction Paper

Here is the link to my Reaction Paper on Response to Writing by Richard Beach and Tom Friedrich, One Approach to Guiding Peer Response by Kim Jaxon, and Writing Comments on Students’ Papers by John C. Bean.

For the Final Project, I went over the digital tools list and found some interesting possible ones I could maybe use for my vignette. I have some notes for my vignette and I think that this list is really going to help me develop my vignette further.

Digital Tools and Final Project

So, I got lost on the internet this week.  Had a ball with all of the cool digital tools, but was overwhelmed…..such is my personality.  I’m thinking that we need to choose a “home base” for our project first, and then we can all tinker around with the tools to see which best suits our personal needs for the final vignette.  Since I was familiar with Weebly, Wordpress and blogger, I messed around with Wix (thanks Devon) as platform to hold our project.  I was impressed!  In ten minutes I threw together this home page trying to convey our “tapestry” vision.  Basically, each of us could “own” one of the pictures and could link to another page on the site.  From there, the sky’s the limit!??!!   If you click on the pic of the house I(we can each make those pics whatever we want)  in the upper right, you can see what I mean..…sample project site

Jaxon, Bean, and Beach & Friedrich- Teacher Comments, Peer Response, and Revision

This week I found all three articles to be helpful. They actually all gave concrete suggestions that teachers can use to benefit their writing students. I really liked that I had some "take away tools" to implement into my classroom. One of the biggest thoughts I had as I was reading brought me back to the Sommers article from a few weeks ago, and that was how students can easily feel that their teachers are not invested in them. That became most clearly stated in the Bean article. I loved that he included research showing students' comments after receiving vague or mean feedback on their writing pieces. This was so telling to me. Kids are emotionally invested in their work, and teachers often dismiss this. To get these types of comments must be so frustrating, even damaging. I enjoyed how he modeled how using feedback can be useful and even showed the improved revised piece afterwards.

The Beach and Friedrich piece was helpful in that they honed in on the different types of feedback out there and how each works. They addressed ELL students often, stating that these learners want more negative comments because they want to know what's wrong and fix it. I also really liked that they suggested taping comments and conferences. Such a clever idea. That can be useful for low level learners and for teachers. Being able to reflect on ourselves is so important. What better way than to hear ourselves instructing our students. And, Nancie Atwell. I simply admire her, and the fact that they quote one of her strategies that I vowed to use this year is so cool. Attwell's In the Middle, is a great resource for all things writing, and a place I often like to visit. Beach and Friedrich mentioned her tactic of writing back to her students, a useful technique that I read about last year and added to my list of "thing to try" for this year. Overall, I think their article has some substantial meat to it and gives teachers some groundwork for helping them provide the best feedback in order for their students to create stronger revisions.

Finally, the Jaxon piece was great. She had many concrete ideas to strengthen peer responses. I love having my students work together on their writings, but man, it takes a lot of practice and modeling to get them to a place where they can do the work Jaxon poses. Because I have my students for two years, I feel that there is so much growth in this area, but baby steps need happen. Right now we are practicing using "glow" and "grow" statements. They still all want to comment on handwriting, spelling, or grammar. I do agree with her reasons for why we incorporate peer work: that a deeper knowledge is created, there is an immediate audience for the text, and it helps students reflect on their own work. This is smart work, but takes time to build.

Very Confused by Digital Tools…

As I revisited all of the digital tools which appeared so inviting at first glance (with the exception of the one which would not open..) I am now more confused than when I started! The other day I checked out several of these sites, and signed up for a couple of them. Today I found some other ones I really liked and signed up for those too. Unfortunately, all of this has distanced me further from what I would like to do for my contribution to our final project! I was intrigued by Chatterpix, and Online Image Editor gave me some ideas as well. The other idea involves Pic Monkey and Haiku Deck but those may be a bit of a stretch. My hope was to reenact the actual "Aha" moment, with (perhaps) an emphasis using sound and animation. In short, bring it to life and maybe have a few bars of background music; make the point memorable and lend a laugh too. I will try and iron out exactly where I want to go during the upcoming week (I hope) and be able to give you all a clearer picture of what I have in mind. These are all quite amazing tools but as I am unfamiliar with their use, they are also intimidating to this older student.

Writing Comments on Student’s Papers (Bean) and Response to Writing (Beach & Friedrich)















“The paper graders are here, sir. Shall I send them in?”

The article written by John Bean was a nice read. The opening statement about teachers forgetting the human being who wrote the word and then becoming so harsh and sarcastic that they let their irritation show on the pages reminded me of the cartoon strip above. It is true writing teachers sometimes are too harsh of a critic. The article also reminded me of Peter Elbow, Nancy Sommers, and Donald Murray’s main points all wrapped up in one regarding constructive feedback. Especially the comment about writing teachers being coaches at the drafting stage and being judges at the final stage. This idea of teacher’s being “coaches” during the writing process was a common theme among these three authors I’ve mentioned above.  Although, John Bean’s view point seemed like reiteration of the other authors we read about, the style in which he wrote this article was different.  He not only talked from the student’s view point he also provided a sympathetic perspective. He stated, “We let our irritation show on the pages even though we know how we ourselves feel when we ask a colleague to read one of our drafts (apologetic and vulnerable).” This thoughtful approach make you want to reconsider your method if you are one of those teachers who shows no sensitivity towards student’s work and progress.  Bean also included student’s reaction and view point to teachers’ comments on their paper and alongside that he provided ideas of positive commentary. Bean further provided advice on constructive feedback and how to properly guide students through the writing process.  Again, this article was a great read because it offered in details the proper way to guide and communicate to students throughout the writing process and it also gave great tips on how to implement positive commentary without insulting or devaluing students’ work.



Beach and Friedrich’s article is very similar to the many articles that I have read in terms of discussing and providing guidelines on the effective ways teachers can provide feedback. Although Beach and Friedrich article dated a little later than the others, I don’t think they mentioned anything new that haven’t been said already by the many others that had covered this topic. They did however categorize their main points and included several research findings to back up their arguments.  Even the research findings and their recommendations were conclusive in their approach and remediation. That goes to show you that there was and still is a general consensus regarding this topic. Everyone (meaning the authors who had covered this topics and even the students and teachers who had read these articles) pretty much agree that without effective feedback from teachers, students will not engage in substantive self-assessment and revision that can help students improve their writing. It is pretty much agreed upon that teachers’ feedback need to be specific and nonjudgmental in order for it to be effective, and it is pretty much agreed upon that that various strategies need to be implemented into the writing class to further help develop the writer and the writing process. Having read yet another article on responding to students’ paper led me to believe that there was and still is a lot of focus in this area, but current writing classes do not reflect or put to practice some of these ideas and strategies recommended  through these researches because the last I remember I was still getting vague feedbacks and given really no room for self-assessment  in some of my college classes  and last I remember my teacher colleagues were doing something similar with their lower grade students. Overall I enjoyed reading the article and I will be using a lot of the strategies and tips recommended.


"Writing Comments on Students’ Papers" by John C. Bean

     I wanted to spend some time discussing how the last eight weeks have already made me a better teacher. This isn't meant to be brown-nosing post; just a sincere declaration of the appreciation for the ideas I've been exposed to since the semester started. If I hadn't read the articles for this class, I'd be conducting my classes the same way I always did.

     Each article gives ideas on best practices while highlighting what could be ineffective. As I read through each piece, I see just how much of the ineffective practices were present in my class. The same goes for a lot of my colleagues (I'll refer to us as "we" from now on). We viewed each class as if we were casting pearls before swine; the kids weren't good enough for what we were giving them. It was lost on them because they refused to do the necessary work.

     We approach each paper thinking only of ourselves and the knowledge we bring. We don't consider that a student may legitimately not understand the content, or (God forbid) we didn't cover it thoroughly enough. "Writing Comments on Students' Papers" made me think of how we practice this form of communication.

     What struck me the most is the idea of dehumanizing the writer and insulting his/her dignity. I think back to how teachers talk about students as they grade papers. Personal insults, assumptions that the student wasn't paying attention, and even remarking about the lack of hope for the student's future are common comments that I hear when colleagues grade papers. Notice how I've dropped the use of "we"? I like to think I wouldn't speak about my students this way. I don't now but I can't be certain about ten years ago.

     This year I started writing what Bean refers to as mitigated criticism. While I can't say that I notice an increase in production (these are different kids), I feel better about the way that I'm treating their ideas. My students have never really questioned grades or comments on papers, but the idea of them having thoughts like the students in the Spandel and Stiggins study is upsetting. I think most teachers assume the students look at the comments and shrug it off.

     So I'll finish this part off by saying that of all the articles we've read so far, this is the first one that really made me question my effectiveness up to this point.

     In terms of the tools we can use for the project, I was toying with the idea of choosing a movie clip as my moment of what can be possible when all the elements of a movie come together perfectly. Obviously embedding a video is as simple as clicking the mouse, so I was thinking of annotating the video. Thinglink looks interesting in that regard.

Three Exceptional Pieces on Writing Comments for Students

John C. Bean’s “Writing Comments on Student Papers” is a very straightforward piece which addresses the immeasurable importance of sensitivity and constructive criticism when in the position of “paper­-grader.” This positive reinforcement of students can only serve as a tool for improved skills as well as incentive for success. I especially enjoyed the section on “mitigated criticism” which is explained quite thoroughly. The combination of both positive and negative elements, presented in an encouraging yet succinct manner, seems a very honest and productive method for this task. Students are praised for their strong choices while being reminded of their weaker areas that need attention. The approach clarifies, for the student, where revision is needed while praising the sections that exhibit strength. I also was impressed by the concept of teacher as coach (instruct and encourage) and later judge.
The strategy for teachers ­­placing the comments on a later draft as opposed to each rough copy ­­makes sense as does the hope this will prompt revision. The list of possible marginal comments, and sample paragraphs included, I found very helpful. The author runs workshops on this process of grading/ commenting on student writing, so these examples are worthwhile tools. It does appear that grammar truly is considered far less important than one would think when it is referred to as a “lower-­order concern.” Because grammar does seem to be a recurring situation in many cases. “student-driven” corrections demanded by teachers is completely acceptable. Also, the refusal to grade papers until said student has cleaned up these errors, is fully within the scope of reason. Stylistic problems, however, are not so easily dismissed.
Wordiness is another problem, and one I can relate to far too easily. I generally have to eliminate a great deal of my original writing to create anything free of excessive language. Choppy sentences are hard for readers to follow and need to be avoided--­­students have to try and smooth their writing for their intended audience. The review of all these marvelous skills, organized and clarified by the author, is an invaluable reference I may turn to ­­hopefully ­­one day as I grade papers. I rather enjoyed this useful and informative essay.
“Response to Writing” written by Richard Beach and John Friedrich, is a very similar piece which also supplies vast amounts of research, innovative methods, and outcomes. A somewhat older work geared towards a larger range of students, this essay is filled with statistics from various research projects on the same topic. These studies found that:”...the nature and quality of the teacher’s feedback during the composing process is critical to whether students revise” (223). This research shows how essential it is for students to understand a teacher’s feedback in order to utilize the recommendations in a positive manner. The revision process can then be a source of substantive change towards a higher quality of writing.
The section on teachers misjudging a student’s writing is reflective of Peter Elbow’s piece and his suggestions to know students as people in an effort to objectively and constructively read their works without bias. Also, the stress in this discussion on knowing one’s audience reminded me of our discussion last week, and Martha’s knowledgeable reply. The techniques for feedback in this study are consistent with the other piece--most teacher’s comments are deemed too vague, inconsistent and just not very helpful. Elbow’s “reader-­based feedback” (226) is referenced as a method of positive reinforcement; I felt that concept is the equivalent of the “Mitigated Criticism” discussed by Bean in the previous essay.
The majority of students:”... prefer comments that explain why something is good or bad about their writing” (226). As for peer review, the point made in regard to student’s effectiveness is quite true; I often am uncertain how much is proper to say when in this position. Training for this task would probably be productive as well. I found the trend towards teacher conferences to discuss writing issues more personal and a wise choice as well as the online conferencing tools. In retrospect, both essays offered many excellent processes that have been proven effective as per research. Hopefully one day soon I will find myself in a position to utilize my new-found knowledge!
The final essay: ”One Approach to Guiding Peer Response” by Kim Jaxon, is an answer to my suggestion for student training for this task! The author is quite thorough with her instructions for successful peer responses, and the process makes a lot of sense.  I especially liked the clarity of this author and her inclusion of both questions and an example feedback statement. The only drawback to this process is that it involves a great deal of extra writing for both parties.

Assuming that all students in the class have the same assignment, both the initial essay (with its accompanying research) and the requirements listed for a successful peer review would be the first matter of business. Then, before submission, carefully writing a memo for the teacher as well as peer reviewer, AND proofreading the original assignment, both memos andrequirements for the student reviewer. Wow! That is thorough but requires a lot more preparation time. It does sounds wonderful but only if all class members share this enthusiasm, and will treat the peer review with sensitivity and respect. If so, I think it’s a terrific process to implement in all writing classes.

Weekly Response: Jaxon’s "One Approach to Guiding Peer Response"

This article reads more like a TIW than an essay. I am going to try out her ideas on Tuesday! The students are just starting their research papers in class, and next week we will use Jaxon's style of peer editing. Her directions are clear, and her examples are instructive. At first I thought she was unclear, because she offers peer response guidelines for a proposal, but then discusses only the peer review given for a first draft of a research paper. I read this again, and I see that she is suggesting that the students look at the assignment and then compose questions that will be answered in the peer review document. She gave the assignment and questions composed for the proposal document. Later, when she gives an example of peer feedback for the actual research paper, we don't get to see the assignment or the questions composed.


The part about having the class come up with the questions that guide the peer review won't work as well in my class, so I will change that. I'll provide the questions her class composed as a guide for the proposal feedback, and I'll compose the guide questions for feedback for the actual paper myself.

I am concerned that some students (I already know who they are) might not complete the peer review. That would be very disappointing for the authors. Jaxon suggests the peer review should be worth a significant amount of points. Hmm, I'll need to revamp my rubric this weekend. And I'll have some Moodle postings to make; I'm going to use some of her text verbatim as assignments.

Surprisingly, Jaxon (from California) laid out precise and executable lesson plans, albeit with some omissions, and explained why they work. She gave detailed instructions and examples. So I'll cut the West Coast gal a break. BTW, looked it up, Cal State Chico is way up north. I knew she couldn't be So-Cal; she's closer to Portland than LA. Thanks, Jaxon!