In case you missed it, catch Nancy Sommers's CCCC webinar, "Responding to Student Writers" here: Watch the webinar
Other useful links from the webinar:
Do you have a question for Dr. Sommers? Log in, drop your questions in the thread below, and Dr. Sommers will answer!
From webinar attendee Jennifer Horowitz: Re: "Too many comments are written to the paper, not to the student": do you ever feel like when you comment to the students (vs to the paper) that you are critiquing the student vs critiquing the paper. That is, is there a risk that the negative feedback becomes personal for students?
A key idea for me is one that Nancy presents at 08:45: "Responding is really the most enduring form of communication we have with our students." Students develop as writers in response to both the tone and substance of our feedback; and in fact, students' memory of the class--even as they move on to other courses in future semesters--is based on the personal interactions we have with them through our comments on their drafts. For these reasons, I assign a "Dear Reader" letter with every draft, as Nancy suggests. This is very useful for moving from a dull monologue about the essay's requirements or the rules about good writing to a dialogue about what a student is trying to accomplish and how it's going.
--Michelle Clark, Merrimack College
Jennifer--Thank you for your great question. This idea--"Too many comments are written to the paper, not to the student"--seemed puzzling to me when I heard it. I wondered--what does this mean? What would be different about comments directed to a student, not to a paper? So, to start, I began asking: If a student were sitting beside me, how would I approach commenting? Would I tell the student what is missing and deficient in the paper? Would I bark a series of commands--Be specific! Avoid generalizations! Develop more! Or would I think about the particular student who wrote the paper--Marie, for instance--and why Marie chose the topic she is arguing; how she is asking an interesting question that matters to her; how my comments might be shaped to help Marie meet her goals. I find that my comments are more specific, more helpful, more of a dialogue than a monologue when I write to the student. Also, I am less critical and more generous because it feels like an act of communication, not an act of criticism.
As I mentioned in our Webinar, I also find that the practice of asking students to write a "Dear Reader" letter helps me write comments to a student. If, for example, Marie writes in her letter that she needs help with developing an argumentative thesis or with paraphrasing sources, I can shape my comments as responses to Marie's questions.
Let me know if these thoughts help. Let's keep the conversation going. Nancy
Thanks, Michelle. As one of the Bunker Hill Community College students told me, "The most effective comments start conversations, not end them." I love this idea--the kind of idea I write on a post-it note-to remind me that all comments should start conversations with students. A comment such as "Too much summary, not enough analysis" doesn't really start a conversation. It is a judgement, an observation, and, truly, what is a student to do with it or learn from it.
If students attach a "Dear Reader" letter, we can shape our comments as conversations--a response to a writer from a writer--personal and focused, and enduring.