We are writing teachers, and in the world of writing, feedback is HOLY. But does that mean we love spending every waking hour responding to student work? Indeed it does not! But because we’re writing teachers, we see lots of writing, and think a lot about how to devise ways of making our lives easier.
In this post, and in others, we’ll discuss ways to reduce the amount of concentrated time you spend providing feedback by creatively harnessing classroom resources. We’ve found it essential to distribute the labor of providing feedback across time and people. In other words, don’t do it all at once, and don’t do it all yourself. This week, we offer ways for providing individual feedback once a project is under way.
Teacher-to-Student Feedback: Four Ways to Narrow Your Parameters
Both of us know that sitting with a stack of 50 student papers and no strategy other than “get through them” can be daunting. So, what can you do to strategize?
Do you offer as much feedback as you can muster? Do you let feedback emerge organically from your first read of a project? While there are times when this can be a pedagogically useful approach (usually at the beginning of a project), we’ve found there are more efficient ways to respond. Here are some strategies we’ve used to narrow parameters & get work done:
- Ask students to craft one question about their work, and use that question to guide your feedback. Since we teach writing, a question we receive from a student might look something like this: “Does the organization of my paper make sense?” Students’ questions limit the scope of our responses, as long as we insist on only responding to only those questions.
- Craft your own question about students’ work, and use that question to guide your feedback. Specific questions can often provide useful feedback (for example, “how well does evidence support the thesis?”). In Matt’s experience, the more specific the question, the less time he spends thinking about how to respond.
- Have students identify a specific outcome or assessment criterion they are concerned with, and respond only to that concern. When Matt uses this strategy, the question becomes “What does this student need to do in order to perform better along specific project goals or assessment criteria? What do they need to do to become a more reflective writer (project goal) or to organize their claims effectively (criterion)?” This strategy has the added benefit of prodding him to specifically elaborate on his understanding of outcomes or assessment criteria.
- You can identify a specific outcome or assessment criteria too. Maybe you only want to reply to students’ engagement with previous literature — maybe responding to only that one thing will be most pedagogically useful. We get it, it works, it saves time.
Student-to-Student Feedback: Four Ways to Redistribute the Labor of Response
Like we promised earlier, it’s entirely possible to distribute the labor of responding across a class. For example, many of you are probably familiar with peer review, and some of you may even use peer review. Here are a few recommendations we have for facilitating student-to-student feedback activities:
- Model feedback for students. Maybe they’ve given feedback to their peers before, maybe they haven’t. Show students what good feedback looks like to you. We like soliciting work from previous and current students and modeling in class how we would respond to that student’s work.
- Create effective feedback structures. While some students might do great with open-ended prompts for offering feedback, in general, that feedback will only improve with well-structured prompts you’ve designed.
- Do it regularly. Don’t just talk about student-to-student feedback once at the beginning of a course and pray that will be enough to turn them into professional responders. Instead, return regularly to the activity of offering feedback, and talk openly about what kinds of feedback will be most useful at various points in a project.
- Call “peer review” something else. Heather likes to call it “feedback.” When she has called the activity “peer review,” she has found students are more likely to gravitate toward line editing, grammar, or what folks in writing studies call “lower-order concerns.” When she stopped calling it “peer review” and started calling it “feedback,” students were more likely to offer “higher-order concerns,” focusing their attention on organization, quality of analysis, ability to synthesize literature, and strength of arguments.
We’d Like to Know: What time-saving methods have you used to respond to your classes once a project is under way? What methods of individual response have you found most effective for your students’ learning? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.