This year my English colleagues and I have set a common professional goal of improving the effectiveness of our feedback on written work. I am very excited by this collaboration, as I am always interested in exploring how we can make feedback more streamlined, collaborative, and manageable. Writing instructors spend so much time creating feedback, and I am always looking for ways to get better at the process (and reclaim some of my private life).
We are still exploring the research and I plan to blog much more extensively on this topic in future posts, but here are the broad ideas I took away from our most recent discussion of what research shows us about written feedback:
Students must be able to apply the feedback for it to have any meaning. In other words, writing feedback on an essay that the student will not revise is wasted time for everyone involved.
When students see their teachers as more CREDIBLE and LIKEABLE, they are more likely to value, trust, and, therefore, apply the feedback.
Positive comments are more effective than negative ones.
Written feedback can result in improvement, but feedback has no effect unless the student understands it and agrees with it.
These conversations are helping me reflect on the feedback I give. I am already crackling with ideas on how to improve my work, but I am also happy that the research clearly supports some of my current practices. In this post, I am sharing an idea that helps me address the final bullet point above.
I don’t always ask students to revise an entire essay. In an effort to make the revision process more manageable for me and less daunting for my students, sometimes my students rewrite only one body paragraph of an essay: The Paragraph Revision Assignment.
Learning isn’t lost by having students focus on just one paragraph. In fact, by focusing on only one body paragraph, I often find it easier to reinforce valuable skills and give meaningful feedback. The conversations I have with students about organization, grammar, voice, and analysis are the same as the ones I have when discussing an entire essay, but the students seem more likely to absorb this one-on-one feedback when they immediately apply it to revision. When they are only working on one paragraph, they make changes more rapidly, frequently, and eagerly. Also, when the revision efforts need further revision, the student is much more likely to rewrite a second, third, or fourth time when dealing with only one paragraph (or a few sentences).
Of course, my students still revise entire essays, but recently I have been using this paragraph revision assignment after in-class, timed essays with great success. Remember, research shows us written feedback can result in improvement, but only if the student understands it and agrees with it. Asking students to revise one paragraph is helping me ensure that such moments occur more often.
More posts about writing feedback: