Commenting on Student Work

I was excited to read the article, Response to Writing by Richard Beach and Tom Friedrick because I am looking for ways to improve how I respond to my students writing. Over my years teaching, I have tried out various strategies for providing students feedback on their work. In general, I find that my students do not read the comments that I write on their papers. Thus, I have been searching for a strategy that would be more effective in helping my students become better writers. I was hoping Beach would provide such guidance.

Beach’s research confirmed what I have learned through experimenting in my feedback style. In order for students to engage in effective revision of their work, teacher feedback needs to be “specific, descriptive, nonjudgmental and varied” for each student (231). Comments also need to focus on the ideas within the work and not only on the grammar. Beach’s conclusions make logical sense to me. Using Google comments to provide feedback on students work in progress has been the most effective method of feedback that I have found. This strategy allows me to make specific comments to each student and also opens up a dialogue for us about the work.

While Beach provided a solid summary of the research on responding to students’ writing, his article missed one key component for me - examples. Just as students need models of good writing, as an educator, I also need to see examples of effective comments. I wish that Beach had taken his article one step further to include samples of effective comments. Also, I would like to know what the research says about the practical aspects of providing feedback. How many comments should a teacher make? How many times should a teacher reread the work? How much time should a teacher spending commenting on a student’s work?

Luckily, some of these questions were addressed in John Bean’s work, Writing Comments on Students Papers. I appreciated Bean’s opening in which he provided samples of students’ reactions to teacher comments. This section provided the examples that Beach’s article lacked. From these examples, I could clearly see why comments that are specific, combining both positive and negative criticism are the most effective. The students’ reactions to these comments also made it clear why some students do not revise their work as much as teacher would like; they feel put down and turned off. To be honest, the way a comment makes a student feel is not something I consider often. With 125 papers to grade, it is easy to forget that there is a personal element to each comment. 

The practicality of Bean’s article continued when he gave specific advice for responding to students’ work. I agree with his idea that revisions should focus on two or three major areas that the student should work on. This allows the student to address certain areas of concern without feeling overwhelmed. I also love the questions that Bean provides to educators who are reading the drafts. These guiding questions are like a roadmap that help teachers to provide more effective student feedback. I also think that you could provide students with the same questions to help them self-assess or peer edit. The helpful tips and suggestions continued throughout Bean’s work making it my favorite reading thus far in this course. I plan to create a cheat sheet for myself of his advice and keep it handy the next time I correct students’ papers.