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Talking about Writing: Some Tips on the Hows and Whys of Responding to Student Writing

Why use writing?

 Some typical goals of writing assignments:
  • show understanding
  • prove knowledge
  • demonstrate awareness of terminology/disciplinary norms
  • synthesize information
  • explain
Other purposes:
  • to pose questions
  • to explore issues
  • to stimulate thought/discussion
  • to develop personal opinion
  • to focus ideas
  • as conversation
  • to create knowledge (cf. synthesize)

Informal writing assignments

  • Low pressure, Process-oriented, Dynamic, Quick, instant feedback
  • Journals, In-class writing, On-line discussions

Creating Writing Assignments

  • Be explicit about goals and expectations (documentation?) Be explicit about criteria for assessment Be explicit about audience Try to create "real" writing situations Give models, explain why they're successful (share best drafts, best papers for future assignments)
  • Give a written assignment sheet and explain the assignment in detail in class


  • Credit/no credit (check, check plus, check minus) Portfolio evaluation Check list
  • Impression grading*


Importance of revision & feedback
Types of feedback:
  • Instructor feedback
  • Peer feedback
  • Writing room
  • Self-critique
Responding to student writing
  • Justifying a grade vs. responding Time saving, more productive use of time Get students to treat us as real readers rather than sources of impersonal verdicts Extensive research on the issue of responding to student writing
    • Don't correct every grammatical error (identify patterns) Comments are more meaningful when directed toward revision Comment as a reader, not as an editor (conversation, show them how they are communicating to a reader) Keep comments to 2 or 3 major points (don't clutter the margins) Comment on strengths as well as weaknesses; what worked Give specific, constructive commentary; personalize comments Ask questions that help students clarify and develop their writing Describe your reading experience, how you react to their writing Be less directive Prioritize your concerns in an endnote Don't do your students' work for them! Return responsibility to the writer Give students feedback that allows them to see their writing choices and the effects their writing has on a reader Students want to make contact with a thoughtful reader, another human being who communicates a response
    • Respond in your own voice

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