Grading and Written Feedback

This past Friday we discussed the best and worst feedback we’ve ever received on our writing–best meaning most helpful and/or most striking, formative compliments, and worst meaning least helpful and/or most striking, formative critiques.

We noted that the least helpful comments offered no insight, no reasoning behind judgment, and/or no suggestions for revisions. Examples: a letter grade with no comments at all or angry comments that not only cut you down but also fail to offer techniques for revising.

We found that the best feedback we’d received featured these qualities:

Validates your ideas and/or style

Singles you out, makes you feel like a rock star

Expresses clearly articulated points

Teaches you to be patient with the process

Examples: a compliment explaining why a particular insight is new and valuable, and a mention that this new perspective will be built into the instructor’s teaching of a text/concept/technique.

From these discussions emerged a list of tips for teachers assessing writing:

  1. Minimize marginal marks and comments, as they can be overwhelming. Instead create a list of 3-5 comments, and reference a specific sentence/phrase/word in each one as an example. No need to mark every instance of the same kind of problem.
  2. Provide at least one full-sentence compliment and one full-sentence constructive critique.
  3. Try this phrasing: “This is what I see you doing… This is what I like about it… This is how you could make it better…”
  4. Practice what you preach. Model how to give feedback: give feedback aloud and often, repeat those phrases in your written comments, and encourage students to try phrasing you use in their peer review work.

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