How Will You Respond to Student Writing?

  1. Managing individual written response.  As this blog post from noted writing researcher AndreaLunsford makes clear, responding to student writing can use up every moment we have unless we draw limits: 
    • Quickly read through the entire stack of papers, noting general trends, common difficulties, and noted successes with the assignment
    • Set a timer, or watch the clock.  Devote no more than a certain amount of time-15 minutes?-to each draft.
    • Go back through each paper more slowly, reading for ideas, arguments, and organization.  Ask a few questions where you are puzzled; suggest ew sources or a approaches students can use; offer praise where it's warranted.
    • Keep comments brief and to the point, no more than two per 250 words.
    • End with a short final comment that consists of your "sense of the draft."  Lunsford crafts an end comment by:

      Point to out [the essay's] strengths, stating its major idea or thesis, and moting what needs to happen to support it better.  Here is where I mention any errors - and direct students to their Handbook to study and learn about them.  I end this comment with a short action plan - a list of two or three things the student needs to do to improve the draft.

      What results from such a process is not a grade but a response.  Grading is the quick and often final act of giving points to a student paper; responding allows students to see hour reactions to a text while it's in process. Make reading student papers easier and more useful to students by concentrating on response.  And since you've responded to the first draft, any commentary you offer from then on can be far briefer and more evaluative.
  2. Holding conferences.As one website states, "research shows that this technique is the most powerful way to convey to students that writing needs to communicate ideas clearly, and that failure to do so has consequences."  Cancel class for a few days and meet with students for 10-15 minutes each.  Require them to bring questions for you about their draft or the assignment.  Then read parts of the paper aloud to them and "comment on your reading/thinking process as you go.  Read the errors, stumble over awkward sentences, read confusing sentences more than once, and comment on the sense you are making as you read."  As in these comments:  "So, what you're focusing on is ....."   "You've introduced several ideas, but I'm still confused about what you're actually trying to saying the paper."   "How is this idea related to the earlier one?"  "Didn't you already mention this point?"  "I'm confused. Do you mean ... or ....?"  "This paragraph was clear even on a first reading."  "I like the way you add that bit of humor here.

    "This "transparent reading" may only have to be done for a part of the paper.
  3. Scheduling group conferences.  Speed the conferencing process by meeting with groups of three to five students. Early in the semester, assign students into editing or workshop groups.  Prior to meeting with you, all of the members of the group should read one another's papers and to come to the conference with comments and questions. Then use the conference time to facilitate a brief conversation about each student's paper, and allow student to share their feedback.  Establish a pattern for the meeting: for example, "ask each peer commentator to react' to the paper, noting something that they like and then commenting on what they found problematic. The instructor should listen carefully, asking questions that clarify the peers' perspectives. When they've finished, the instructor can offer her perspectives and then give the writer a chance to respond."
  4. Use technology to respond to student writing.  See our page on technology for several examples of online and digitally-mediated response.