Responding to Student Writing by Nancy Sommers; Writing Comments on Students’ Papers by John C. Dean; and, Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment by Peter Elbow put forth three different arguments of utilizing pedagogy that will improve students writing by engaging them in practice and revision.
Nancy Sommers central message is that teachers need to “develop comments which will provide an inherent reason for students to revise” and to show students “the potential for development implicit in their own writing”. John C. Dean’s article takes the next step in offering a list of General Principles which guide: General Procedures, Marking for Ideas, Marking for Organization, Marking for Sentence Structure, and Some Further Principles. A point that both Nancy Sommers and John C. Dean make are that comments should first be directed to higher-order problems (such as conceptual development) before turning to lower-order problems (such as spelling and punctuation). John C. Dean also proposes that revision should be permitted for students who are willing to integrate final comments on the graded paper into an additional draft. In taking this approach the teacher is focused more on student learning than ranking.
Peter Elbow examines the problems of ranking and the benefits of evaluating. In doing so, he proposes ideas for structuring the teaching process so that students are focused on the habit of writing and given the space to develop their writing practice more and focused less on pleasing the teacher and worrying about a grade. He achieves an environment of learning by providing a contract to the students where they are promised a grade of at least a B if they adhere to all the requirements of good study habits (which he lists for them at the outset of the course). Although he stresses that he is uncomfortable with the process of ranking with a wholistic grade he accents that the process of evaluation allows everyone to make a distinction between strength and weaknesses of the different features in the writing. He employs evaluation through utilizing comments on a grid which enables the students to know where the teacher feels they have strengths and weaknesses. Although he does advocate for evaluation, he also recommends building evaluation-free zones into the teaching time. He found that devoting the first three weeks to activities such as freewriting, quickwrites, and sketches (as well as private journal writing) results in improved student writing and community building.
These three articles stress the importance of various factors which contribute to the development of student’s voice and process-oriented learning. Nancy Sommers stresses the importance of concise and focused comments. John C. Dean states that limiting those comments to three comments the students should focus on per revision and gives specific advice on how to structure these comments. And Peter Elbow recommends a shift from a pedagogical approach which is focuses on ranking to one which is focused on process, practice, and evaluation.