Feedback Fears and Frustrations
As a student, draft comments are usually the worst part for me. It’s always after the assignment where I realize something wasn’t coherent or something could be improved. Fortunately, these comments are helpful to keep in mind for the next assignment. However, there are times where I questioned if my professors was truly engaging with my writing, or not, when reading their comments. As a future FYC educator, this is most definitely a concern I have for my future students. How do I go about providing accurate feedback? How have my teachers provided feedback and how can that help or hurt me in my own classroom? These are daily questions I ask myself.
Nancy Sommers wrote a brilliant article called “Responding to Student Writing” that contains a study that focuses on teachers grading feedback/comments on students assignments. Her findings revealed some eye opening facts that show that my earlier mentioned concern is valid.
For starters, Sommers notates that teachers often sit in their proverbial grading seats and “look for errors” in assignments instead of actively engaging with their students papers, which is contradictory to what they command students to do with assigned readings (Sommers 154). This causes problems because, as Sommers states, teachers are then changing and “correct[ing] students writings” (154). Therefore, the student is no longer focused on their narrative voice or engaging with the material, but rather on how to articulate what the teacher wants in the way the teacher wants. Even further, the comments teachers leave are vague in nature with no clear direction or aid that could help guide the student to discover where the issues reside in their work, which results in having issues with resolving similar issues in the future. The vague comments are something I have unfortunately experienced more times than I’d like to admit. Thankfully, Sommers provides solutions teachers can try in order to help students in the revision part of the writing process.
New Era of Teaching
Sommers states that as teachers, “we need to respond as any reader would” (155). That means we ask articulate questions when something doesn’t sound quite right. We direct the student to those sections and share what’s confusing about them to help our students better connect with the piece and keep their natural narrative voice. Further, we need to keep in mind that “[o]ur goal in commenting on early drafts should be to engage students with the issues they are considering and help them clarify their purposes and reasons in writing their specific text” and that “[c]omments should point to breaks in logic, disruption in meaning, or missing information” (155). In other words, the way we interact and comment on assignments will help bridge the gap between student writers and their audience better than the standard vague comments with no clear direction or questions to help students think and further engage on their own. The important point is that we encourage and gently nudge for corrections without focusing on what we want, while still keeping guidelines in mind. Remember, we want them to do the work, make these valuable connections, and engage in conversations about the material(s) because it makes their thoughts, ideas, and writing that much more important.
The solutions that Sommers offers allows teachers to provide exercises and cohesion between their comments and the classroom to help students find these errors on their own. That way they are comfortable with tearing apart their work and rebuilding something stronger (156). This can be done by asking the right questions and providing detailed feedback to further connect with students and help them understand and explore the texts, whether it’s their own or something they misrepresent, in order to connect deeper with their audience.
Washington University in St. Louis, which seems to hold the same understanding and rationalization as Sommers, has a very detailed list to help teachers improve student writing when giving feedback.
“When Will My Reflection Show”
It’s in these moments of revision that students and teachers alike should reflect on why these comments are necessary to make and implement. When we as students or teachers reflect on these choices, we can then focus on how it improves writing, from a student’s standpoint, or our curriculum, from a teacher’s standpoint.
Further, according to Kathleen Blake Yancey’s chapter, “On Reflection,” She defines reflection as a “dialectical process by which we develop and achieve” (6). That definition means that reflection allows us, as a collective, to see how we each achieve specific goals we have established in order to make new ones. It’s in these reflections where students and teachers can find new ways to learn and grow because “reflection makes possible a new kind of learning as well as a new kind of teaching” (8). When teachers focus on being true readers and not on locating errors, students are given a chance to thrive as writers and focus on how they can improve their writing for readers instead of for teachers. It’s important that teachers remember that writing is in everything, readers change and go beyond classroom walls and improving writing is better than alienating students because the right tools were provided.
Question to Ask Yourself
I pose this to my cohort, and future teachers, with the understanding of vagueness in comments and requirements, how do you plan on teaching students to connect with their work in the revision process?
- How do you plan on allowing students to connect back with what they’ve learned about themselves as writers once the course is complete?
- And what do you hope to learn about yourself as a teacher and life student once each semester is completed?
“Commenting on Student Writing.” Center for Teaching and Learning, 6 Oct. 2020, ctl.wustl.edu/resources/commenting-on-student-writing/.
Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication, Vol. 33, no. 2, 1982, pp. 148-56. http://www.jstor.org/stable/357622.
Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “On Reflection.” Reflection on Writing in the Classroom, All USU Press Publications. 1998. Pp. 1 – 22. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/usupress_pubs/120