Feedback on Writing

What kind of feedback do you offer your students on their writing?

Are you red pen crazy? Do you mark up the paragraph, page, or essay with slashes, carots, and circles every where there is an error? Do you do this with another color pen – trying to conceal your zeal for marking the page?

Or, are you a minimalist, just circling the area of the rubric which critiques the writing with a 4-3-2-1, offering nary a hint at what was right or wrong in the writing sample?

Are you correcting Greenbelt Writing? Ralph Fletcher says this is a no-no. Did you interrupt the flow of that student’s Slice of Life to point out a mis-spelled word? I hope not.

Luckily, I do not think I fit into any of these categories!

But, I do know that feedback to students on their writing is extremely important! Yes, I know, I know; it is also extremely time-consuming.

The reason the topic of feedback is part of my slice today is that I am awaiting my grades from a graduate course that ended on November 22nd! The course was Environmental History – I have talked about it on my blog before. There was a paper due each week from the 8th of October through November 12th.  The final project was due November 19th, and was worth 30% of our grade. But, here’s the thing – none of it has been graded! Yes! I said none! Five papers, requiring the synthesis of a great deal of reading material, complete with citations turned in on time, but sit ungraded in the course drop box. As a perfectionist, a hardworking student, and someone who looks for teacher feedback to use with which to improve myself, I find these ungraded assignments hard to understand.  Yet, I have not choice but to wait. So, wait I will….and hope for the best!

This week I also told the third grade teachers whose students I borrowed for the last six years that I will not be back to lead writer’s circle this year. This was a group I founded when my youngest was in third grade because he liked to write. As a parent who liked to write (and, teach) I asked his teacher if I could lead a writer’s circle for a small group of her students, including my son (who is in 10th grade now). It worked so well that the following year, I was given students from each of the three third grades in the building for a once a week writer’s circle meeting in which we wrote, shared, laughed, and learned together. It was a great experience for me, as well as the students, I think – at least that is what I was told.  Throughout our time together we explored narrative and expository writing, poetry (my favorite), newspaper writing – which we shared with their classes, travel brochures, pourquoi (another favorite – although difficult), and more. Over the years, almost all of my writer’s circle students were published in a national poetry compilation.  I am especially proud of that accomplishment. In terms of feedback, I tried to offer a mix of both verbal and written praise and suggestions, as well as guided constructive criticism. These were students who already liked to write – I was cogniscent of that and did not want to do anything to diminish it.  So, I carefully guarded what actually flowed from my pen onto their paper.  It was a difficult decision to let this group go, but one I feel whose time had come. I am looking for opportunities to build a similar group in more of a community setting.

Once my next semester of graduate school is underway, and I can gauge my own workload, I will look into some possibilities.  Hopefully, I will also know by that time how I did with my own writing assignments!

Inspired by my weekend reading of Joy Write by Ralph Fletcher and by the blog and Slice of Life Tuesdays! Thank you for the opportunity to share our stories.



6 thoughts

  1. Wow! What a lucky group of students that had the opportunity to work with someone who loves writing and teaching writing (you, of course!). You’ve made me reflect on the type of teacher that I used to be (red pen and all) and where I want to be. As a coach, I don’t have too many opportunities anymore to look at/correct student writing, so I can’t say that I am where I want to be, but I hope to get back to that soon. And when I do, I hope to NOT be any of the examples above (including your graduate course teacher). Good luck on finding out your grades soon! Let’s hope that it’s sooner than later. 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I admire your dedication to your writing group! It sounds like it grew so naturally and was fed by the kids in the group – ideal ingredients! Have to add, Joy Write has reignited my beliefs about writing instruction and have written about the effect the book has had a group of teachers in my district – change is happening – teachers have agency! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really enjoyed your post. I’ve been thinking about the power of feedback for a few years after hearing Jennifer Serravallo at a conference. You have given me more to think about. I remember how frustrating it can be to not get feedback on assignments you worked so hard on. I had a few profs in grad school who would just give a grade with nothing else. That’s fine if the grade you received was good but it didn’t help those who wanted to do better on their next assignment. After reading this I’m thinking I need to put Ralph Fletcher’s new book on the top of my professional TBR stack. Hope you hear something soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! You know I am starting to wonder at what point it becomes anti-climatic to then receive the grade – good or bad. After the course is done, there is no room for improvement, even if one wanted to try and if you did well (which, honestly, I expect to do), and receive feedback – I still cannot apply it to this course (although I can to future learning if the feedback is broad enough). I just looked at the course page again – nothing. I think I am past the point of caring (almost). It is a good lesson what not to do with students – especially, younger ones. Lack of feedback really kills motivation! Thanks again for your comment!


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