While compositionists agree that teacher response is integral to student writing development, research in the field has indicated the need for more inquiries into how students interpret their instructors comments (Taylor Smith, 2011). Theorists have also emphasized the positive impact that setting aside class time for students to actively engage with their instructors comments on in-draft writing can have on the revision process (Straub, 2000). When it comes to response, new graduate student instructors of First-Year English (FYE) may not only feel bogged down by the workload of commenting on student essays, but may also feel as though using simplified response strategies, such as minimal written comments or rubrics, are inappropriate methods of response. Additionally, upon receiving student revisions at the end of the semester, graduate instructors may also worry that their time spent responding to student drafts has not helped facilitate student gains in learning.
The questions driving my research in response include: how can simplified response strategies be just as, if not more, effective than extensive commenting in helping facilitate both knowledge transfer and more global revisions? How might these strategies help reduce graduate instructors’ stress over commenting tasks? How might graduate instructors plan in-class workshops in which students engage with their comments, and how might these workshops lead us to a greater understanding of what types of comments students find most beneficial?
In my essay, I will argue that simplified response strategies benefit both students and graduate teachers. Shorter, more targeted commenting on complete units of ideas and on the internal structure of student papers provides FYE students, many of whom may be inexperienced writers, a holistic snapshot of their writing that helps allow them to make revision choices that accomplish two things. Firstly, in the way that short comments address global concerns such as development, analysis and organization, these comments enable greater student understanding of the building blocks of effective composing. Secondly, these comments allow students an accessible route to global revision processes. Simplified response techniques benefit graduate instructors, because these techniques can lead to increased student revisions at the same time that they decrease instructor workload. A decrease in workload creates a space for response in which response is transformed from work into reading; from an imperative to justify the instructor’s evaluation of the essay through more comments to an opportunity for the instructor to provide insight as to both what the student is doing well and as to what opportunities the teacher sees for development.
In addressing how instructors might plan in-class revision workshops using feedback generated through short commenting techniques, my essay will answer the call for more research into students’ understanding of instructor comments. In this section of the paper, I will outline a sample lesson plan for such a workshop and explain how, through both peer-to-peer and teacher-student dialogue, instructors and students can work together to identify which types of responses are most beneficial and why. Doing this helps to foster the types of learning partnerships that theorists such as Andrea Scott have argued are essential to increasing students’ success as academic writers.
Scott, Andrea. “Commenting Across the Disciplines: Partnering with Writing Centers to Train Faculty to Respond Effectively to Student Writing.” Journal of Response to Writing 1.1: 2015. 77-88.
Straub, Richard. “Managing the Paper Load, Or Making Good Use of Time.”
The Practice of Response: Strategies for Commenting on Student Writing. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000. 253-260.
Taylor, Summer Smith. “ ‘I Really Don’t Know What He Meant by That’: How Well do Engineering Students Understand Teachers’ Comments on Their Writing?” Technical Communication Quarterly 20.2 (2011): 139-166.