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Responding to Writing Tip Sheet

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FYP Spring Conference / UCWbL 05/18/07Responding to Student Writing(adapted from Richard Straub)• Before you start to read a set of papers (optimally, even as you put together theassignment and talk to the students about the writing they are to do), consider the aimsof the assignment. Decide if the assignment is meant to advance student learning orto evaluate student progress. How does what you are looking for here mesh with whatyou have been working on or what you intend to work on in the class? Decide what yourmain focus with be—and what you will generally not deal with in these papers.• Decide how long you’ll take with each paper—and how many you’d like to havefinished in an hour or two. Do all you can to stick to the plan. You may not be able tokeep up, but you’ve got a goal in mind.• Learn the uses of directive, facilitative, corrective, and evaluative forms ofcommentary. Without criticism and calls for changes, there would be less direction inyour responses. Without comments that play back the text, ask questions, provide readerresponses, and offer explanations, there would be less help and encouragement in yourcommentary.• Look to engage students in an inquiry into their subject by treating what they haveto say seriously and encouraging them, in turn, to take their own ideas seriously.Write out your comments, especially the most important ones, in full statements. Short,cryptic comments, abbreviations, and a lot of editorial symbols may too readily be takenas the hasty marks of an editor or critic…or the pouncing corrections of a teacher.• Focus your commentary on no more than two or three concerns in a set ofcomments, making sure that your comments reflect your priorities and advance the goalsof the course. Students do best when they can work on a couple areas of writing at atime.• There’s no need to address every instance of a problem or, for that matter, everysuccess. Select key instances and build your response on them. Leave the rest for thestudent to identify and work out on his or her own.• Don’t overwhelm the writer with comments. It’s not the number of comments thatdistinguish informed teachers’ responses from those of uninformed teachers; it’s whatyou do in the comments you provide. Instead of being comprehensive, try to cover lessground and be more effective with what you do take up.• Concentrate on higher order concerns (HOCs). Emphasize matters of content, focus,organization, and purpose in your comments.FYP Spring Conference / UCWbL 05/18/07• Depending on the goals of the assignment, try to minimize time dealing with lowerorder concerns (LOCs). Employ minimal marking for errors: punctuation, grammar,spelling, and other local conventions. Instead of marking and explaining every error, justput a tick mark in the margin next tot the line where the error occurs. Leave it up to thestudent to locate and correct the error. Encourage the students to make an appointmentwith the Writing Center if they have trouble identifying these errors.• Keep an eye always on the next work to be done: the next draft or the next assignmentthe class will take up. Make comments that are geared toward improvement, not simplythe assessment of a finished text.• Read the student’s text in terms of its (stated or assigned) rhetorical context. Does itachieve the purposes it sets out to achieve?• Tie your responses to the work you’ve been doing in class and to your immediateand long-term goals. Use the key terms of the class in your responses.• Take advantage of the many uses of praise: to recognize a job well done, to teach aprinciple, to underscore successful strategies, and to encourage students to continueworking on their writing. Use praise in one area or in one passage to build confidence fortackling others.• Fit your comments to your own strengths and style as a teacher, and along the waylook to add to your strengths as a responder. No one way of responding will work, orwork the same way, for every student or with every assignment. It is necessary, then, todevelop a repertoire of responding strategies to meet the demands of different studentsand different settings.Adapted from Richard Straub, “Guidelines for Responding to Student Writing” (Strategies for Teaching First-YearComposition. Duane Roen et al, eds. Urbana, IL National Council of Teachers of English,

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