Managing the Paper Load and Responding Effectively to Student Writing
Terry Zawacki, Director, Writing Across the Curriculum, University Writing Center
Give feedback appropriate to stage of the writing process:
- Formative: Purpose is to provide feedback for revision. Students will often not read formative feedback if there’s no opportunity to revise.
- Summative: Purpose is to sum up strengths and weaknesses and to give evidence for the final grade.
Invest time up front by doing the following:
- Read and explain the assignment in class. Try writing a thesis or opening paragraph yourself.
- Provide students with a list of characteristics for A/B/C/D/F papers and/or show them an example of an “A” paper and discuss the reasons it got an “A” grade.
- Clarify your evaluation criteria and make a rubric for grading. Give students the rubric well before the paper is due and discuss it with them.
- Ask students to fill out the criteria for themselves, using it as a sort of checklist before they turn in the paper.
- Show students examples of comments you make on papers and tell them your pet peeves.
Practice minimal marking:
- Resist the urge to edit. Research suggests that it does students more good to find and fix their own errors. Focus on two or three kinds of errors you see recurring. Put a number by the mistake the first time you see it and
explain the error. When you see the same mistake, put the same number beside it. No need to re-explain. Syntax errors are harder to categorize (and for students to fix). You can explain what a syntax error is, fix one or two sentences, and mark others for the student to fix.
- Edit one paragraph thoroughly and explain the errors. Tell the student it is his/her job to edit the rest of the paper the same way and resubmit. If you know the errors are due to carelessness, give the student a late grade when he/she resubmits.
- If you don’t allow students to revise and resubmit papers, ask them to include a cover memo on the next paper explaining what they have paid particular attention to in this paper based on your comments on their last paper.
- You don’t need to grade all writing the same way, e.g: mark “completed/not completed” or “acceptable/unacceptable” or “professional/unprofessional”; use a simple rating scale; comment only on the items you’ve
focused on in the unit. Be sure to tell students what these ratings cover.
- Check out Star Muir, Lisa Sparks Bethea, Sharlene Thompson, Jill A. Moss, and Matt Hersey's Spring 2003 Inventio article on response macros.
The final comment:
- Appreciate what the student was trying to do by restating the paper’s main point and discussing some strengths.
- Don’t give students so many comments they don’t know what to do first. Prioritize and limit your critical
comments and explain why they present problems for readers.
- Give students some tips for the next paper. If this is the only or last paper they will write for you, give them some tips for improving their writing overall for future courses.
- Control the size of your handwriting (my handwriting gets larger the more annoyed I get at the writer).
Finally, don’t grade shoddy work. Just fail it or require it to be resubmitted for a lower grade. If you don’t want to let the student resubmit the paper, give a grade that reflects your anguish and/or annoyance, and explain briefly your reasons for giving the grade, being direct but also courteous, recognizing that students too must set priorities.
RETURN TO TEACHING WITH WRITING: PRACTICES