Amy Sexton, Kaplan University Writing Center Tutor
Providing effective feedback on students’ writing can be challenging, especially when we consider what we want students to be able to do based on our feedback. As teachers and tutors, our goal is to help students become better writers and that means that they need to learn to revise and edit their own writing. By using the following strategies, we can help students become independent revisers and editors.
- Do not make changes in the students’ writing. While fixing the students’ work may be the easiest way to provide feedback, doing so does not help students learn to make their own corrections. As a related example, my teenage daughter hates it when she is trying to learn a new cooking task, and I “help” by doing it for her, and for good reason. She has no immediate need to learn to do the task if I do the work for her, and the same is true for student writers. Changing the students’ writing may also be detrimental because doing so does not allow students to make decisions about style and grammatical choices and may even cause them to lose interest in the writing process. Instead of making corrections in the student’s writing, instructors and tutors can include detailed explanations in marginal comments. Additionally, in our writing center, tutors record video feedback which enables them to demonstrate possible corrections and edits during paper reviews and then click “undo” so that students can gain practice in correcting these issues on their own.
- Do not comment on every error or instance of error in the students’ writing. I have actually heard students say things like “There are X number of comments on my paper. I must be a very bad writer.” Instead of commenting on all the issues or errors in students’ writing, choose the areas that are most important. In our writing center, we often address higher order concerns first. When we do comment on lower order concerns like grammatical or punctuation errors, we look for patterns of error. Typically, we will point out only the first error and then tell students to locate other errors like the ones we have marked in their writing. By doing this, we are teaching them to edit their own writing.
- Also, teach students how to identify and correct errors in their writing. When students are able to identify patterns of error in their writing, they can learn to correct them. One strategy that they can try is to keep an error log. I did this when I was an undergraduate, and I found it extremely helpful. Each time an instructor returned a paper to me, I noted my errors on a list I kept in a separate folder. Then, before submitting each paper, I reviewed the error log and specifically checked my submission for the errors listed. This enabled me to not only avoid these errors but also to become a better writer capable of editing my own work. As a tutor, I often share strategies with students that will help them learn to be their own editors. For example, if I notice a pattern of run-on sentences in a student’s paper, I explain how the student can locate one type of this error in his or her writing by looking for coordinating conjunctions joining two complete sentences. I tell them what the coordinating conjunctions are (For, And, Not, But, Or, Yet, So) and explain that they can use the mnemonic FANBOYS to help them remember them in order to identify run-on sentences in their writing.
- Finally, always encourage students to read their work aloud or enlist a friend or family member to read their work aloud to them. Many tutors and academic support centers have students read their writing aloud in face to face and synchronous tutorial sessions. Reading aloud is a great way for students to check for meaning, organization, tone, and grammatical errors. Reading aloud also helps students develop audience awareness as they can hear how their writing might sound to someone else. The Writing Center at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (2014) has compiled an informative handout that enumerates the many benefits of reading aloud and includes excellent suggestions for software and web-based apps that online students can use to have their computers do the reading for them.
From making careful decisions to how we give feedback on students’ writing and how much we give to encouraging students to take charge of their own writing processes through errors logs, error identification, and reading out loud, we can help students become independent writers who can revise, proofread, and edit their own writing.
The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (2014). Reading aloud. Retrieved from http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/reading-aloud/