I led a short workshop earlier today on how my approach to commenting on students’ papers shifted after I read Nancy Sommers’s handbook, Responding to Student Writers. It was while reading that book that I realized that my students were not just writing in order to produce “what I want.” They were sharing their ideas with me. Crazy as it sounds, I began to think of it as a privilege to respond to them.
In practice, my new outlook meant downplaying “marks” and marginal comments on papers in favor of a written dialog with each student writer, a dialog that continues throughout the semester, as students tell me about their writing and I respond to them, coaching them on how to build on their successes and improve as writers.
Two resources I referred to in the workshop were the Harvard Writing Project and an illuminating video produced by Sommers on how students respond to comments on their papers. (Sommers has links to several other videos on that page.) What I learned from the video was that students do not always know what we mean in our brief marginal comments. Even “Good,” a comment I have written at least a thousand times on papers, is pretty opaque. What is good? Why is it good?
If you want to talk more about effective strategies to respond to student writers, say so in the comments or contact CELT.