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What Are the Most Effective Ways of Providing Feedback on Student Writing

Ryan Flaherty

What are the most effective ways of providing feedback on student writing?

Between the late 1800s and the 1950s, “rating” student writing in a way that was believed to be “objective” or even “scientific” was the mission of most assessment. Grammar, vocabulary and other “error-correction” mechanisms took precedence over less-quantifiable, more-articulated response practices. Connors and Lunsford explain that the former measures, kept alive through the popularity of rubrics, serve as a sort of defense mechanism against subjectivity, “(evolving) from the rising status of scientific method and statistics and from writing teachers’ uncomfortable awareness of exactly how ‘subjective’ their grading of papers was” (Connors and Lunsford, 201).

Too often, the feedback teachers provide adopts the tone of a critic or judge, and is influenced by a teacher’s vision of an “ideal text.” Brannon and Knoblauch acknowledge the lack of authority present in much student writing, but point out that the teacher-evaluator [attempts to] ‘(fix)’ the writing in ways that appear to approximate the Platonic Discourse, the Ultimate Propriety, that any given student text may have suggested but not achieved (Brannon and Knoblauch, 158).

In addition, Connors and Lunsford suggest that instructors resist putting too much time into their feedback because “…they [have] little time or energy to say [what they want to say] and little faith that what they [have] to say [will] be heard” (Connors and Lunsford, 211). Time constraints, negative beliefs regarding the extent to which comments are utilized by students, and beliefs that students should already have mastered certain aspects of writing, all contribute to a continued resistance against more progressive, thoughtful feedback practices.

Over the last three decades, researchers have begun to examine the intricacies of teacher feedback: how feedback is worded; how the student-teacher relationship affects feedback interactions; how students respond to teacher feedback; and (though not conclusively), how classroom context influences the efficacy of feedback. The significance of alternative, less-authoritative, approaches to feedback has even greater relevance to the basic writing classroom, wherein most students are used to exclusively receiving criticism for their efforts.

The existing compFAQ wikis on feedback illustrate some aspects of “personalizing” our approach to assessment. They suggest practices such as generating extended responses at the end of student writing (as opposed to in the margins), creating a dialogue with students to help them explore their topics in greater depth, and resisting the temptation to assess student papers with an “ideal” text in mind. We would like to expand upon the existing wikis’ content on feedback placement and individualization, and add to the response/ commentary discussion with information on phrasing feedback and connecting it to the basic writing classroom context.

Works Cited

Brannon, L, & Knoblauch, C.H. “On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model Of Teacher Response.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 33, No. 2, (May, 1982), pp. 157–166.

Connors, R.J., & A. Lunsford. “Teachers’ Rhetorical Comments on Student papers.” College Composition and Communication. Washington, DC. 23–25 Mar. 1995.ERIC Document Reproduction Service, ED 384 902.

Graupner, Meredith. “How Can instructors Provide Efficient and Thorough Feedback?”Retrieved 2 Mar 2008.

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Page last modified on April 16, 2008, at 11:38 AM