evaluating students writing

Giving and Receiving FEEDBACK


Evaluative feedback is one of the primary roles of any instructor but even more so for the online instructor. A discussion around what are the most effective methods to support students writers might help professors think about the best ways to provide feedback to students and for peers to learn to help peers.

When reading a review, there are a number of levels of possible feedback. I (Margaret Riel) am starting this discussion but I am hopeful that others will feel free to add to or modify these entries. This is wiki and it is meant to reflect what everyone thinks. There is also a discussion page for starting a dialogue about the type of feedback that works best in your teaching, or the type of feedback you most value on your work.

Comments on the whole document:
Organizational Structure--does it flow well from idea to idea...can the reader predict what is coming next? Are there enough signposts to keep the document organized by not so many that the reader is never surprised. There is a balance in writing between helping your reading navigate but embedding occasional surprises. Check to see if students followed APA conventions (or whatever style you are using) especially for creating citations.

Conceptual Structure--Does the overall treatment of the background research and concepts create a good structure for thinking about the student's research? For example, students often collect a set of articles that they think are relevant and then proceed to summarize one article after another. The order makes no difference, it is just a list of relevant articles. This is not a lit review, it is a annotated bibliography. A lit review brings the ideas from different papers into a particular organization that sets the context for the research.

Flow of ideas between sections: Does the section flow into the next? If not, is there a larger frame introduced at the beginning that makes the order of ideas reasonable? Can the reader predict what will come next and are summaries used to remind the reader of the overall structure?

Comments on Subsections
Depth of Treatment of the Topic--How detailed was the discussion of the topic? Was there an identification of a number of reasonable references with a mix between journalist, model building, advice giving, and research evidence and theory? A simple definition of the concept with no citations is not adequate, but as a subsection you don't need to write a chapter on the topic. Finding the right balance depends on how central the topic is to your work. The more central the topic, the more depth. However, if you have identified a ring of concepts that are important, the treatment of any one will be less detailed.

Flow of ideas within the sections: Finding the topic sentence of each paragraph and highlighting it can help students attend the flow of ideas within the section.

Comments on writing within a paragraph
Finding the Topic Sentence--Was the subject of the paragraph clear? Does it have a main idea and does it use evidence to develop the idea? Is there some logic and predictability of what will follow? If the reader stopped reading and asked...What comes next? Will he or she be able to predict the next section? Each paragraph should have a topic sentence. It is not necessary for the topic sentence to always be the first sentence, but it should be clear what the author is doing with the paragraph. The items in a paragraph all have to belong to some overall idea.

Sentence- or Word-Salad? Some sentences that are written by students indicate a struggle to use new terms and, in the end, the tentative grasp of lots of words can result in such a jumble of ideas that it resembles a word salad rather than a sentence. If you are struggling with new concepts, try to keep only one or two to a sentence and work hard on explaining exactly want you mean. I once wrote a sentence and I was unclear of the meaning of some of the words. I went back and read for over an hour and came back confident that I could now express the ideas clearly. To my surprise, I read what I wrote and it appeared to express the ideas in a clear way. But the lesson here is that others, who have not done the reading, may find the explanation confusing. The goal is to be clear enough that others, who have not read the materials, will be able to make sense of them from what you have written.


Invitation for META-FEEDBACK DISCUSSION


Here I am looking for some feedback about providing feedback to students. What do you do to help students improve their writing? What are the best ways to help students develop as writers? Choose edit and use a color to respond here or choose the discussion tab at the top of the page and respond there.



First Question: When you have identified a placer where there is poor writing, it is better to describe the problem the student is having through comments for example, awkward wording, lacks parallel construction, mixed metaphor or is it better to rewrite the section so that the student can compare what he or she has written with what might be a clear way to express these ideas?


Pro for comments: The comments can be explicit about the nature of the problem but leaves the solution to author.
Con for comments: The writer may not know how to solve the problem and be unable to fix the problem leaving both the writer and reviewer frustrated. The writer learns that their writing is problematic but fails to learn now to improve it.

Pro for rewriting: The writer sees what it looks like rewritten and then does the work to abstract the problem and can see one way to solve it.
Con for rewriting: It is possible that the writer will simply accept the changes without any analysis or thought of why the reviewer changed it. The text is improved but the writer did not learn to write better.

Clearly a solution is a combination of both--but that takes the most time. If the reviewer only has time to do one or the other, which is more effective for you and why?

I think it depends on how well the student is writing "over-all" --- is this an on-going issue where the student just needs help with the basics (which, unfortunately, is a HUGE problem in upper education)? Or is it a 'once-in-a-while' thing, where maybe the student quickly pushed together an essay to hand-in due to time constraints, illnesses, or other extreme circumstances?
I don't believe it is the instructor's job to grade or correct syntax or English within a graduate-level student's essay -- this is something that should have been accomplished.
So, JUST A COMMENT about by the instructor should suffice -- the student has SO many resources to use for changing the wording, etc. -- and the prof is so busy with far more important tasks.
Just an opinion....one in a million, I'm sure.


A second question is ...if I identify and respond to a issue, is it reasonable to expect that the writer will find that problem in the rest of the text, or does the evaluator have to mark it every time?


Pro: Writer will be more aware of the problem if it is well marked, but more troubled by the amount of feedback. Also may not think about how to make the changes.
Con: The writer may not understand the correction as an instance of a particular type of problems and will miss the changes.

Which do you do and how does it word for you?

Please feel free to add your comments in the text, or start a discussion using the discussion tab next to edit at the top of the page.

For me, if it's a "ONE COMMENT HAS A PROBLEM" sort of thing...one notation is fine....if the whole paper should be re-read, re-worded (?) by the student, then maybe the note should simply say just that. It's harsh sometimes, but we all must take responsibility for the smaller tasks that should already be refined by this stage of the game, in Grad School.