Responding to Student Writing

One of the most challenging tasks of a writing instructor is finding ways to respond to student writing that is not only corrective, but also instructive and encouraging. The resources below present research on best practices for responding to student writing as well as tips for managing the time spent on this activity. Unless otherwise indicated, all sources are are available online via WSU library access.

Dartmouth Writing Program. “Diagnosing and Responding to Student Writing.”
This short online primer hosted by Dartmouth’s Writing Program details and provides examples for four different “styles” of commenting on student writing (Facilitative, Directive, Corrective, and Evaluative) and also addresses techniques for time-management and running student conferences.

Elbow, Peter. “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment.” College English 55.2 (Feb. 1993), 187-206. 
Elbow identifies three different categories of the title as follows: “ranking” encompasses all forms of response to student writing that assign a grade or holistic score of some type, “evaluating” includes all expressions of judgment that identify strengths and weaknesses of a texts, and Elbow third and most novel category, “liking,” gives name to the tendency of reviewers to find it easier to provide feedback on writing that they “like” (or see potential in) and the tendency of writers to revise more effectively if they “like” the initial draft of a piece they have composed.  Most generally, Elbow covers the benefits and drawbacks of all three of these forms and advises eliminating “ranking” when at all possible and leveraging the often unconscious force of “liking” in a more strategic manner.

Haswell, Robert. “The Complexities of Responding to Student Writing; or, Looking for Shortcuts via the Road of Excess.” Across the Disciplines 3 (Nov. 2006).
In this article, Haswell suggests that most “shortcuts” to providing comments on student writing inadequately address the complexities of work in various aspects of both the students’ writing process and the instructors’ interests in evaluating their work. Haswell argues for a new set of “shortcuts” that save time while evaluating but that remain task-, discipline-, and learner-specific.

Lindemann, Erika. “Responding to Student Writing.” A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University P, 2001, 222-251.
Lindemann’s chapter offers suggestions for diagnosing the causes of writing problems and for using comments, conferences, and student self-evaluation to teach students to write more effectively.

Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication 33.2 (May 1982): 148-156. 
In this piece canonical piece on the topic, Sommers discusses research she conducted with Lil Brannon and Cy Knoblach (see above) studying the commenting styles of 35 instructors at New York University and the University of Oklahoma. Sommers focuses in particular on two negative traits common to many instructors’ written responses to student work: (1) the tendency for a teacher’s purposes for commenting to be emphasized at the expense of considering the student’s purpose for writing and (2) instructors’ reliance on adding generic, rather than text-specific, comments to students’ papers.

Brannon, Lil and C. H. Knoblach. “On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response.” College Composition and Communication 33.3 (May 1982): 157-166. 
Brannon and Knoblach present a detailed case study of a student writer (“John”) as an example of the ways in which instructors are quite often driven by mistaken assumptions of what a student is attempting to communicate when they comment on their drafts. They suggest a number of way to curb this tendency, including consulting with students about their intentions, including revision opportunities within assignments, and using comments that question a writer’s intentions rather than just assume them.

White, Edward M. Assigning, Responding, Evaluating: A Writing Teacher’s Guide. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2007. [Available on permanent reserve at Purdy/Kresge] 
White’s text covers everything from evaluating impromptu writing assignments to the grading/scoring of course portfolios.



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