Realistic Tips for Providing Feedback

In response to John Bean, Nancy Sommers, and Peter Elbow: Most English teachers I work with enjoy working with students and enjoy reading their writings. Most teachers do not write “hostile and mean-spirited” comments on students’ papers as Nancy Sommers suggests in “Responding to Student Writing” (149). Most English teachers I know have 20 to 30 students in their classes; consequently, writing extensive end comments on their papers and having three one-to-one conferences per marking period (or semester) with all the students is not feasible in a 40-minute period. Most writing teachers do their best. And here are some realistic tips to help them:

  • Some rubrics such as the 6-point or the 9-point rubric is too detailed and too intricate for high school students. These rubrics were designed for teachers and not for students. Therefore, I like Peter Elbow’s Analytic Grading Rubric since it is student-friendly. I made some revisions to his rubric to fit the needs of my students. Feel free to do the same.
Requirements and ExpectationsWent above and beyond expectations and requirements (Strong)Met expectations and requirements (OK)Did not meet expectations and requirements (Weak)
Content (on-topic, original ideas, detailed and developed ideas)

Deep, thoughtful revisions, substantive changes, not just editing

Organization, structure, and guiding the reader

Language: syntax, diction, and voice

Mechanics: spelling, grammar, punctuation, and proofreading

Overall effect:stylistic risks, voice

  • Other strategies recommended by Peter Elbow I use in my classroom are the ten-minute, nonstop freewrite, portfolios, and writing conferences. In our English Department, students are encouraged to keep their writings for four years so they can see their growth as writers and thinkers.
  • To encourage the love for writing, students need to feel that their writing matters. It is not merely for a grade. By sharing the students’ writing with the entire class, they can see that their writing impact. The student needs just one person to appreciate his or her writing. Thus, I appreciate Elbow’s observation that “writers learn to like their writing is by the grace of having a reader or two who likes it –even though it may not be that good.” If students share their writing with others, then the act of sharing may encourage them to write more.
  • Most of the time, students do not read the extensive notes in the margins or the end comment. They are only interested in the grade. Therefore, I like John Bean’s idea of a one-to-one conference or even a one-minute conference. By speaking directly to the students, they may be more inclined to revisit the paper. They may ignore your comments, but most students will not ignore you. Furthermore, students like individualized attention from their teachers. So, I try to touch base with my students during class or outside of class during office hours –even if it is for just a couple of minutes.
  • I am not a judge. I am a writing coach. Here is one of my favorite quotations from John Bean: “ Think of your commentary as a personal correspondence with the student. Use a supportive tone of a coach.”
  • From Nancy Sommers’ examples of teacher feedback, I would say try not to use cursive handwriting. Print your comments. If you feel that you are writing extensive notes, then you need to speak to the student directly.

Please feel free to add to this list. 

Response #3: The Right Type of Feedback is Always Encouraging

For this week, we were assigned three reading to reflect on and write a response. To simply describe and mention these readings, they focus on the concepts of evaluation (Peter Elbow), responding (Nancy Sommers), and commenting on student writings (John Bean), by their teachers and instructors. Despite these reading being focused on different things, yet somewhat connected, I found myself understanding that they all work for one purpose: to provide some sort of feedback on the writing of students. And such feedback should be carefully given because it has great impact on the students themselves, as their works are sometimes subject of wrong judgment.

The first article of Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms or Judgment (Elbow) basically talks about how evaluating and ranking works of students can sometimes be done inaccurately, and therefore the judgment that emerges in just that. But also, that it often has the effect, on students, where they feel they have to write to accommodate their teachers, thus forcing them to worry more about psyching out their teacher than their own writing. It encourages that such forms of judgment, through evaluations, should be only followed to some degree and geared on an approach that is more supportive of students.

The second article of Responding to Students Writing (Sommers) talks about how teachers respond to their student’s writing. It argues that in often cases, teachers do not respond to the writing of their students with the type thoughtful commentary that helps student engagement on the issues write. And in the process, teachers pay much focus on the correcting of students writing instead responding to the meaning. It suggests that when responding to the writing of students, more focus should be put on the meaning to which they write.

The third article of Writing Comments On Students’ Papers (Bean) talks about how teacher leave commentary (on the students writing) that can many times be too critical and hard to understand by the students. In the process of this, students are not only left a bit confused on how they should really fix their writing for improvement, but also left discouraged because the commentary is often dehumanizing and insulting. It suggest that teachers should be less short, indirect, cryptic on commentary, or only focused on addressing the things that were found to be wrong in the writing. Instead, they should also included positive commentary to balance out the type the effect left on the students.

I personally have to say that after reading the three readings, I found myself agreeing with many of the points, which encourages improvement to how such feedback is left to the students’ on their writing. This is because as a student of writing, I have found myself victim in many of these situations. If writing is more often than not personal, and there is always a deeper meaning to it, then this is all the more reason to provide feedback that is supportive and understanding of these. In terms of evaluating students’ writings, we should be more thoughtful of the many factors behind a student’s writing, be more general, and be less personal. How is it that one teacher might give a paper an ‘A’, but another teacher might give it a ‘C+’? This alone shows that a lot of the times, we are just as personal when evaluating a work as we are on writing the work. But the two are different indeed. With evaluating, you have to keep in mind that you are leaving a mark with the rank or grade you give, and this has a great impact on the person behind the work, whether it’s positive or negative. In terms of responding to the writing of students, I also think that we should focus more on the meaning behind the writing of each work, rather than criticizing and focused on finding all the errors that think were made. Similarly, how we respond to a text is just as personal as writing the text. And so, it is important to not only connect with what the overall message of the writer, but also to respond to text in a way that supportive of pedagogical structures. And lastly, I really find myself connecting with the idea of how commenting on a student’s writing should be done, according to the article. The comments we leave behind on a student’s paper is probably one of the most impactful, hurtful, or empowering forms of feedback we can give. This is because in this form, we provide actual words and speak our mind on what we think is right, wrong, should be improved, ect… And if not careful, we can humiliate or help improve the work (if the student chooses to). It is for this reason that we have to make sure we not only leave comments that support constructive feedback, but also that are supportive of the things were done right and deserve appraisal. If a student is never told in his writing of the things that deserve rewarding and congratulations, he or she might not be aware of their own accomplishment.

Feedback on Writing

Feedback on Writing

Fatima Muhammad

September 29, 2019

What is your, “WHY? ”  Teachers must recall they reason why they became teachers and what is their purpose?    Each of these three articles focuses on the student as a writer.  The articles provide suggestions on how a teacher can educate, encourage and support their students in their efforts to improve their writing.  

When a student writes, the white space on the document is very important.  It is a platform for the teacher to use to write comments regarding the student’s work.  “Teacher written feedback plays an essential role in a student’s writing process. It helps students “identify their own strengths and weaknesses, which, in case of the latter, will make students know how to go about improving themselves and become effective writers” (Penaflorida, 2002, p. 364).   Because the teacher’s comments are written on the white space, they really stand out.  Therefore, the teacher must remember that students are sensitive.   John Bean states, “that during the drafting stage teachers are coaches and during the final copy stage, we are judges.  These are two very important roles.  In each position teachers must encourage the student’s emotions, keep them enthused so that they will not want to give up, and teach them to build on their success.  As well, mitigation is absolutely necessary in the writing process.  John Bean shares, “Mitigating comments frame criticism in a positive way in order to buffer students’ anger or mitigate feelings of inadequacy (Treglis, 2009; Weaver, 2006).  Students look up to their teachers for academic instruction, and  the students also looks to their teachers for guidance and encouragement.  If a teacher relates comments in the white space in a direct manner, they risk the chance of losing the student’s attention.  Mitigation offers a balance.  The corrections are written in a respectful manner.  Also, handling revisions, by using a,” hierarchy of concerns”, can make the writing process more coherent.  I particularly like this method of drafting.  I can see where it would allow me to stay focus on, “ideas, organization, development, and overall clarity.”  As well, I am most interested in the, “old/new recall old information or knowledge then introduce new information/knowledge.  I am going to implement that into my writing and teaching.  This will make the introduction of new material less intimidating.

Likewise, responding to student’s writing is essential.  One very important point is how a teacher focuses on the student’s mistakes.  We must recognize that mistakes are evitable.    We make mistakes in every aspect of life.  For example, mistakes in academia are a part of the learning process.  Sometimes students may not follow all of the steps of the writing process.  Sometimes students have not been taught how to write probably.  And sometimes teachers put more focus on the student’s mistakes than on the student’s text.  This can prove to be discouraging to the student.  Marva Collins started The Westside Preparatory School in Chicago to teach students that were labeled disabled.  She stated, “If you can’t make a mistake, you can’t make anything.”  Mistakes can be helpful in the learning process.  As well, mistakes can work against the learning process.  Too often when teachers respond to a student’s writing, the teacher focuses on the mistakes made by the student.  As a result the discouraged student may become more concerned about the errors and less concerned about the meaning of their writing.   “We read with our preconceptions and preoccupations, expecting to find errors, and the result is that we find errors and misread our students’ texts.  We find what we look for; instead of reading and responding to the meaning of a text, we correct our student’s writing.” Nancy Sommers.  There are many students that can verbally express the meaning of their thoughts very well.  Teachers must be sure that their response to the student’s writing addresses the meaning of the writing. The mechanics of the writing can be corrected later on in the following drafts.  In the beginning drafts it is essential to offer responses that do not make the student feel inferior.  Marva Collins also stated, “Praise is essential in developing the right attitude toward learning and toward school.”  It is very important to first help a student see the value in their writing, and then make corrections later.  I also agree with the advice that Ms. Sommers offers to teachers: “ motivate to revise, focus on the meaning of the text, teacher’s response must be text-specific, tell the student what needs to be done and then offer strategies and be specific, avoid vagueness.”  Teachers:  How do you respond to your student’s text?  How do you help maintain your student’s self-esteem while correcting their writing? 

            In closing, more techniques that teachers use to assist students in their writing are, “ranking, evaluation and liking.”  Ranking is a grading system that teachers use to grade students’ work.  Peter Elbow states, “Ranking leads students to get so hung up on the oversimple quantitative verdicts that they care more about scores than about learning-more about the grade we put on the paper than about the comment we have written on it.”  With all the state testing that students are forced to take, they have become so concerned about the numbers in the reports that represents their education.  I’m not in favor of the ranking system.  However, evaluation concerns me.  Because it would be difficult to rate because everyone has a different bottom line.  It would be time consuming and expensive to establish this method through the school district.  However, “Liking” has caught my interest.  “Liking,” is the most positive of the three methods listed on this in this paragraph.  The teacher likes themself, the teacher likes their own writing, the teacher likes the student and the teacher likes the student’s work.  That is a win-win situation.  “Liking”, is everyone getting to know each other; the student as a person not only as a student.  As well, the student will get to know the teacher as person with a family and friends and weekend activities.  This is achieved by have individual conferences.  I suggest that you try this method of, “Liking”, with your students.


Feedback on Writing

Image result for f on student writing

There’s nothing like writing a paper that you felt was worthy to be handed in, only to have it returned to you marked up with confusing comments that all point out just how wrong your writing was. Teachers truly do not know the power their feedback holds and how it can either help or harm a student.

Writing Comments on Students’ Papers: One of the first things that grabbed me in this reading was the statement about remembering the human beings behind the papers we are grading because its easy to forget as we become frustrated. Sometimes its important to take in account that yes this student confused the main idea of their essay, but maybe this was an off week for them and they are struggling, all of this information is equally as important. Bean discussed how emotions play a huge role in learning and I believe this to be true. A student who is already stressed out can perceive feedback as being “mean” and then proceed to not want to revise their paper and therefore, the entire reason behind your feedback is lost and the student does not learn anything. This reading really highlighted the power of feedback and its ability to either empower or dehumanize a student. Remembering the human beings and their emotions, as well as your job to continue their learning is extremely vital when offering feedback. I remember writing one of my undergraduate essays on a novel by Faulkner (which I still have for some reason) and it was the last essay of the semester. The very first sentence my professor wrote for my feedback was, “This is impressively well-researched and written, even for you.” I was so shocked I had no idea what to say and I remember wanting to reach out to him for clarification but I never did (and the person I am now shames me for not speaking up). But in that instance I feel as if he forgot the person, the human being, behind the essay he had just read. And maybe he meant it as a compliment, but the comment was so confusing it came off mostly demeaning to me. Up until that point I never got any negative vibes from him and he didn’t seem like a “mean” sort of person. He was a great professor and I would have loved to have taken another class by him but because of that comment I never did. Which brings me to the next topic that Bean discussed about making sure that students understand the feedback that is written on their papers. As teachers we may understand what we mean when we write a certain comment on a student’s paper, but we need to step into the student’s shoes and make sure that from their side they too can understand. In addition to this topic, Bean also discussed mitigating vs. non-mitigating comments and how students respond better to comments that are not harsh but still effectively communicate the errors that need to be addressed and fixed. I feel as if this advice is not even strictly bound to students. People in general respond better to constructive criticism if it is given in a positive and effective way. As teachers the purpose of feedback should be to make a student better and not condemn them and make them want to stop writing. Teachers should play the role of a coach giving guided revision on a students paper, and not a judge who renders feedback as a means to justify a grade. This reminds me of Linda when she wrote about the power of the red pen and how it can really crush a student.

Responding to Student Writing: In this reading by Nancy Sommers I noticed a few overlaps from the previous reading by John Bean. One of the overlapping topics was about the time spent on a student’s paper. Without comments or feedback a student may assume that they don’t need to revise, and the goal is to make sure that our students are constantly improving their writing abilities. This essay also came back to the central idea of the importance of teachers comment on student papers. This means that the comments that students receive should not be confusing, a contradiction, or present a situation where students are left to sort out what is most and least important to deal with. Some of the ideas Sommers discussed raised some questions for me such as, making comments about grammar in conjunction with comments about the ideas presented in the students paper. Sommers pointed out that asking a to student to fix grammar while also pushing them to expand on their ideas can become confusing to the student. To some extent I understand this idea, and greater importance should be placed on allowing students to further their ideas. But if this followed then when should teachers address grammatical concerns? If addressing grammar at the same time a student is revising and developing their ideas is too confusing, should grammar errors be addressed at the final stages? But if a teacher waits until then, Bean pointed out that feedback given at the end and hoping for these comments to be carried on to the next writing task is not favorable. I also questioned if a student’s grammar is prohibiting a teacher from understanding their main idea, how then does this get addressed without becoming too confusing for the student who needs to focus on their grammar and developing their ideas? Sommers goes on to point out various problems that were discovered during her research and gives a broad overview of how to possible fix some of these problems, but I didn’t find any concrete solutions. Unlike John Bean who laid out a hierarchical way to begin to address and give feedback on student’s writings.

Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgement: Elbow writes about his dislike for ranking and how he would like for teaches to do less ranking and more evaluating of student’s writing. Elbow also discusses the various issues he takes with holistic grading such as it being unreliable, uncommunicative, and oftentimes students become fixated on the score and do not make it a learning experience. This makes sense because all throughout my education I would pay more attention to the grade I was assigned more than the feedback that I was given. One time after I’d already finished a class, I re-read some of the comments my professor wrote on a few of my papers and was surprised to see him repeating some of the same feedback! I was so concerned about the grade that I usually didn’t carry the feedback he had given me on to the next paper I had to write. Elbow also points out how holistic grades sometimes force teachers to justify the grade given and not offer effective feedback. After explaining the downfalls of holistic grading Elbow explains how it may be ideal to do away with this form of grading, that may not be a plausible idea. Because at the end of the day, teachers, more often than not, have to assign some sort of grade either at the end of the paper or at the end of the course itself. And although grades may be counterproductive and harmful, we’ve become accustomed to not only giving out holistic grades, but also in receiving them, and this is how the dilemma is formed. He also mentions how some schools who use only feedback and not grades are successful and I would definitely love to see how that works. As much as Elbow praised evaluation over ranking, he also acknowledges that there are still some problems with evaluating and goes on to discuss those. He brings up this notion of students sometimes believing that their whole job in school is to give teachers “what they want.” I enjoyed reading Elbow and the other two articles as well.

Responding to Student Writing

The Red Pen Effect!

When reading this article, it made me reflect on myself as both an educator and my beginnings schooling years as a young writer. Teachers play a major role on young writers’ confidence as they emerge into the world of academia. With that being said, this issue of marketing up, or the inner child in me would call ‘doodling’ does more harm than benefit if not approached correctly. When reading the article, there are a few points I would like to touch base on.

  • The time consuming pressure of thoroughly commenting on students writing. Not only we are educators putting pressure on our students to make all of these unbelievable changes (so that they sound like us) but we are doing just us much damage to ourselves! Put the pen down for a second my friend and THINK before you have a field day on one of your poor students’ paper. Commenting on about 100 different essays will not only leave your hand crapping but also your judgement a bit foggy.
  • We are trying to get our students to think like us. This one is a little self explanatory. Sometime we are so consumed with trying to make our students these ‘perfect’ writers through vigorous commenting on their papers, that we start putting our own twist on their creativity. I have a secret to tell all my fellow adult essay doodlers … YOUR STUDENT WILL GET THERE EVENTUALLY. The process of writing takes time, and you basically correcting ALL of their mistakes does not help
  • Teachers’ comments can take students’ attention away from their own purpose in writing a particular text and focus that attention on the teachers’ purpose in commenting. How would you feel if you see several red words, circling, scratching out, and questioning question makers all over your own writing?

Writing Comments on a Student’s Paper

“Perhaps nothing involves us so directly in the messiness of teaching writing as our attempts to comment on our students’ essays.”

This is a quote I pulled out from the reading because it just stood out to me and had so much meaning behind this. The quote real speaks value on that of trying to teaching writing through commenting. In fact, we are stirring our students away from their writing individuality with these comments, along other things we are doing to them. I know I am hitting you readers with two quotes back to back, but I have reasoning behind my madness! The first quote is kind of a counter attack against the first. The quote in the picture emphasizing on in class opportunities, rather than just comment after comment.

I would like to dive deeper into some key notes that I took away from this article. One important point that I would like to target is that article talks about how we can mistakenly let our emotions and frustration get in the way of our commenting. I can recall one too many times of an almost sarcastic tone within some of my grade level teachers who would comment on my essays. Even as a professional, I say us because I have caught myself time and again doing such things, get tired of the work load. Referring back to the article, Responding to Students’ Writing, we put so much focus on giving such details comments on about 101 different student essay that we start to lose track and reality of the real matter at hand; making our students better writers!

Another note from the text I would speak upon is comments themselves, or more so the clarification they may not give our students. This point ties back into the frustration we are putting on ourselves that could trickle down our students. The article goes on to say that our students may not be able to truly understand what the comments are referring. We can also send off the mix signals of what should be minor tweak, or start a whole new idea. These confusing comments can lead to young writer becoming frustrated with the process of writing and have a negative notion towards writing in general.

Last but not least (don, don, donnnn *dramatic effect*) … the circling of grammatical errors. For one, in my personal opinion, I am very much against making a big to do on punctuation on drafts of essays. In my imaginary hierarchy of the writing process pyramid, punctuation is at the lower tier. Seeing a thousands circles everywhere can be nerve racking, especially if you are one of those people who have phobia with holes. This serves as a distraction to the matter important matters at hand, like actually getting a second essay draft completed!

Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking

Ranking v. Evaluating
” What do we need to get an A?”
– Every student you may ever teach

The main idea that I would like to address within this article is the notion of Ranking v. Evaluating. I would like to you this portion of my blog to list some pros and cons for each category to see which one comes out victorious.

Ranking: ProsEvaluating: Pros
Finding where a student learning level is
Efficient results
Computer based
Understanding the students learning level
Learning about the student without comparing to other students
Seeing personal growth within every student
No group ranking or average

Ranking: ConsEvaluating: Cons
Computer based number
Forced testing
Not truly understanding students’ intellect
Being compared to other students
Not seeing exact numbers
Having to evaluate students individually 

How writing should be graded!

“The best kind of commentary enhances the writer’s feeling of dignity. The worst kind can be experienced as dehumanizing and insulting…” -John Bean

“Writing Comments on Student’s Papers” by John Bean caught my attention from the very title. Bean talks about how teachers spend countless hours grading student papers, sometimes becoming frustrated with the process— leading teachers to leave comments that show that frustration. Even with good intentions, teachers express rejecting comments that leave students feeling insulted.

In a study conducted by Spandel and Stiggins in 1990, they revealed how students felt in regards to teacher comments. Students wanted teachers to be more specific; they felt frustrated at the lack of insight and felt some comments were just harsh. To promote meaningful learning, teachers need to be more aware of the type of learner. Zull argues that teachers should give feedback based on student successes, making them hopeful, instead of shutting them down. A successful way to do this, she says, is offering mitigated criticism on student work. Mitigated criticism is a mix of positive and negative comments, summed up into two to three lines, leaving room for improvement without rejecting or confusing the student.

Writing should be looked at as coaching more than judging. Rather than pointing out mistakes and justifying grades, comments should be made to prompt revision, as stated earlier. When a teacher starts viewing the process as responding vs. correcting, that’s when the whole orientation towards reading student writing changes.

The first step towards commenting effectively on student drafts is to make sure the paper follows the assignment. If it does, the second step is to see if the writing makes sense, if it wrestles with an underlying question, and if the thesis is present. If you can check all three requirements, the third step is to check the quality of the argument, is it reasonable? And are the supporting reasons valid? If yes, the fourth step is to examine if the draft is organized. You are looking at things like the title, thesis statement, transitions, and so forth. The fifth step is to check grammar, but not in the traditional way where the teacher marks every error. Research suggests students improve more quickly if they are asked to find and correct their own mistakes. Lastly, leave a comment at the end of the paper, highlighting the strengths, summary of limited problems and recommendations for revision. Following these very steps, deepens student engagement and promotes intellectual growth.

Nancy Sommers’s article “Responding to Student Writing,” is very similar to John Beans article addressed above. She discusses the topic of time more in dept, stating that it takes about 20-40 minutes to grade an individual student paper. It is time-consuming to grade multiple student papers, which couldn’t be more accurate. As a teacher, I dread handing out essays because it means I will spend the entire weekend grading papers.

Sommers also articulated the same concerns Bean did about teacher comments on student papers. She conducts a study between a computer-graded essay vs. a teacher graded-essay, and the investigation reveals how arbitrary and idiosyncratic most of our teachers’ comments are. She makes a point about how the teachers comments can take away the students from their purpose of writing. Teachers make multiple corrections leading the students to believe it is essential to correct these mistakes to receive a higher grade. In this process, teachers are taking away the student’s mental cognition about the meaning of the text and what they wanted to write. This type of correction leads students to see writing as a series of parts rather than a whole discourse.

Another problem Sommer reports is the vague comments teachers leave on student papers. They are so ambiguous that they can be used for any composition. The students want strategies to fix the problem which teachers lack to give. Leaving students guessing what the teacher meant, causing stress and no improvement. The confusion is product vs. process; they are quick to tell how a 5 paragraph essay should look but never tell how actually to achieve it. The problem once again, as Bean stated, is that teachers are trained to interpret literary texts for meaning. They are “not trained to act upon the same set of assumptions in reading student texts as we follow in reading literary texts.” Thus teachers comment on what should have been said, ignoring what was said and offering restructuring techniques.

Peter Elbow presents the same material, but he calls it ranking and evaluating. Ranking is the act of summing up one’s judgment of performance or person into a single, holistic number or score. Evauluating is
one’s judgment of performance or person by pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of different features or dimensions. We do both when we grade student papers, and they are both very different. Evaluation requires going above and beyond a first response such as just saying “I like it.”

Ranking he says is uncommunicative, just a grade with no information or clues. It doesn’t say what is wrong, what is disapproved only an overall holistic score of failure. The ranking makes students care more about the score than the actual learning. An excellent theory surrounding this problem is the fact that most humans have authoritarian personalities, making us feel superior when we rank. We have felt the anxiety that comes with this number, just wanting to achieve a 100 and not caring about the actual learning. That is the problem with ranking. The evaluation takes more time, effort, and money.