Responding to Student Writing: Strategies for Success

In both sessions, we had great conversations about the theory and practice of responding to student papers. I want to take a moment here to remind you of some of the practical strategies that came up in our conversations (with thanks to Roy Andrews who e-mailed me his impressions and ideas):

  • Requiring students to pass in a brief statement of intended process for revising with a draft. Response then can be focused on evaluating the intended process, which might be less time consuming than trying to write comments that stimulate or engineer revisions.
  • Similarly, the idea for the following strategy emerged: A professor responds thoroughly and in detail to Paper #1 for a course, then students hand in Paper #2 with a statement (like the one mentioned above) in which s/he writes about what s/he learned from the feedback on paper #1 AND addresses how s/he USED what was learned to make Paper #2 a stronger paper. It’s almost like Paper #1 is a draft for Paper #2. In evaluating, assessing and responding to paper #2, the professor can measure intent against effect, in the context of what the student says s/he has learned. Very process-friendly, but you don’t need multiple drafts, just multiple papers. Hopefully someone will try this and get back to me on how it worked.
  • The use of author’s notes in which students help lay out the agenda for response, which will help a professor prioritize their time in responding (I hope to have a piece on using author’s notes ready for the next Out of WAC newsletter.)
  • From Roy: There’s a famous article by Brannon and Knoblauch that basically recommends asking the student writer to state their intent with their draft and then the responder (professor) merely shares the effect on him or her. Knoblauch, who is a psychologist, found that when reported effect varied from the author’s stated intent then a powerful motivation to revise arose in the student writer. Limiting response to reporting effect is generally a big time saver.
  • Responding to students’ abstracts or summaries of proposed papers and/or first pages only saves time and is very useful to the writer. If folks are interested, we could get together a workshop where we tried this out. Let me know.
  • From Roy: I frequently encourage faculty members to not spend [so much] time correcting and editing, (only mark a page, if any at all) but to make a single sentence endnote telling the student of the problem and that their solution is to visit the writing center. With an unmarked paper and an endnote indicating the problem, I can work with the student at developing his or her editing skills, some of which is about developing the eye to find errors. If the professor has already found and marked all the errors, the student loses the opportunity to develop his or her editing skills.
  • From Roy: I can do checks in the margin (each check indicates a surface error in a line) without disruption to my reading for content. I think others can do this to (not sure). Checks in the margin leave much of the eye search and correction to students. Also, checks in the margin give an objective measure of the surface level problem and are a way to measure improvement. (I have a short article on file about this.)

It should be clear (we can always use reminders) that the University Writing Center is an important ally in responding to student writing. We can also be good allies for one another by staying in touch and sharing strategies that work for us, asking questions, and re-energizing our own practices.

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