Feedback Toward Revision

The heart of the WI program is the process of:

How response to student writing is constructed in our courses determines to a large extent how much student writing improves.

Because the time we have to devote to feedback is limited by several factors (among them, class size and amount of writing), we need to decide which features of student prose most deserve our attention in a particular draft. Lack of time may mean that we have to ignore some features of prose (e. g., spelling) that we might deem less important in the particular assignment than others (accuracy of measurements, logic of argument, etc.).

It's helpful to use the criteria stated in the assignment and discussed with students in class as a basis for feedback. Prioritizing these criteria allows us to decide the features on which we plan to concentrate in giving feedback to a particular draft.

In providing written or oral responses, we need to remember that students tend to expect feedback to be negative and that exclusively negative feedback can be a strong disincentive to writing for many talented people. Hence, if we want students to continue writing, we need to include some specific praise along with our suggestions for improvement.

Consequently, when writing responses, we should avoid cryptic, emotionally heavy, negative comments (e. g. "NO!" "WRONG! "What!?"). Our feedback should be primarily informational: directive (e. g. "Reread Smith's chapter before analyzing this point") or questioning (e. g. "What do you mean by this term?" "I can't follow your argument. What's the connection between _____ and _______?")

It is important to experiment with diverse means of giving feedback: written comments on drafts, separate pages, online response, oral conferences, peer-response workshops, etc. The goals are encouragement, specific information, and efficiency. Whatever means help us accomplish these goals in our feedback are best.

Feedback does not mean editing. Our proofreading a draft that needs larger changes is a waste of time. However, if the mistakes in syntax or other surface features get in the way of our understanding the content of the draft or if the content and the structure of the draft are strong and need little further work, we may decide that such editing is appropriate. In this case, it is more productive to look for patterns of errors and point them out to students, rather than mark each error. This process saves time and puts the responsibility of correction on the student.

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