When I was a student, I don’t think it ever crossed my mind how much work giving written feedback would be. I just gladly took it and read every word my teachers would add to my work.  This term I’ve begun teaching an English 101 class, and I have to read approximately 60 essays several times during the semester. Whereas previously I used to spend 10-15 minutes giving feedback on a students’ essay, I am now spending anywhere between 30-35 minutes on each essay. Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily complaining about the amount of work (this is what I signed up for and I do see the value in doing it!), but giving so much feedback has inevitably led me to question how I give feedback and how I can help students make the most out of it.

Perhaps because of the length and level of the essays I read now has increased, or maybe because I will meet students one-on-one to discuss their essay for 20 minutes after they get feedback on the first draft, I have become extremely self-conscious of every word I add when I begin writing comments to my students’ work.

This is how I am going about giving written feedback nowadays:

-       I started giving electronic feedback this term just so I could actually edit my comments as I write, and so I would have more room to write.

-       I am combining both shorthand writing comments, e.g., SV, Punct, #, VT, Run-on, Frag, along with longer comments in which I imagine I am talking to the student. It would be great if I could just record my comments, and while I vaguely remember someone mentioning there is software to do this, I have not used it before.

While the formats we use to give feedback matter, clearly what we say and how we say matter the most. This is actually what I’ve spent most of my time wondering lately. Am I 
doing is the best for my students? What could I be doing better to make my written feedback more useful for those who receive it and less time consuming for me to produce?

As I write comments on my students’ papers, I often wonder:

-Will they understand what I mean or just skip it and ignore it because it is not clear? I cannot just write a question mark or a very technical explanation of an error and expect the student to get it. But sometimes it is hard to put comments in words without writing too much! The picture I chose for this blog post is a good example of too much feedback.

-Am I sounding too harsh? I certainly don’t want to discourage students, but I also don’t want to sugar coat errors when something the student wrote is not working and needs to be revised. I have to say I do not like the way comments appear on Word --all the red lines and boxes are too much; however, I have not found a good substitute.

-Am I writing too little? Sometimes, especially when I read a paper that has more errors than the average essay, I feel like I need to just get to the most important errors and skip others. I do not want to overwhelm the student with too much feedback. But what if the student then thinks everything else he or she wrote is fine? What if they think I simply did not take the time to give feedback on everything else or did not read it? I suppose I need to continue to remind my students that I will not comment on every error on their work, just the most important ones.

As I get ready for a second round of first draft papers to come from my students, I am thinking of how I want to go about giving feedback (the language I use, the length of my comments, even where I add them). Last time, I asked students to come to tutorials prepared with questions about their feedback and essay writing. I believe this was effective for students who came prepared, as they were in charge of the discussion we had during tutorials, not me. In other words, my feedback had become theirs to adapt and question. My challenge now is making the process of giving feedback more sustainable for me while still being thorough and clear in my comments. I would love to hear tips or personal experiences from any teachers of ESOL reading this blog.

 Let’s see how this next round goes. This time, I’ve got a great new playlist and some fun tea for those long nights grading essays. I’m ready!



11/21/2013 1:22pm

"It would be great if I could just record my comments..." You can do this using screencasting software like Jing or Camtasia: you record your comments as your cursor moves through the document and/or while you mark up the text. Jing is free but only allows 5 minutes recording at a time (or did when I last used it). Worth checking out, though.

Laura Adele Soracco
11/24/2013 8:10am

Thanks, Scott! Jing is charging now, but I'll look for alternatives and try them out.

Laura Adele Soracco
11/25/2013 8:29am

OK, I actually think I got it now. I was confused about Jing. It does not charge, it is Camtasia that charges. I saw that I can keep up to 2GB of videos using a free screencast.com account. Will be sending oral feedback to some students to try this out.

11/22/2013 12:37am

Thanks for the suggestion, Scott. Now that I think about it, the example of giving recorded feedback that I vaguely remembered was one you posted once showing a student's essay. I'm going to play around with both this weekend. By the way, would you say oral feedback to written work is more efficient or useful to students?

11/22/2013 8:37pm

If you use Google Drive, commenting is much easier, and students can reply to individual comments, meaning you can extend the feedback and discussion.

Laura Adele Soracco
11/24/2013 8:08am

Thanks, Anthony. I should try Google drive with one of my groups and see how it goes. Other people I know have mentioned it as being super helpful; I've been hesitant because of the need to use Google emails instead of the school ones. What's your experience there?

11/24/2013 5:21pm

Actually, you can use any email address. When you sign up for a Google account, there is an option that says something like "use an email address I already have". So, its really not a problem. If you do look into using Google Drive, consider using Doctopus with it. It makes assigning, grading, etc. much easier. www.youpd.org/doctopus

11/22/2013 11:56pm

I find myself at a similar point in my evolution of giving written feedback on essay drafts. Your first picture looks oh-so-familiar. I also had the same concerns about the amount of feedback to give in terms of demotivating students who receive a lot of red. The first time, I decided to stick with correcting everything because I didn't want them thinking everything else was fine and then repeating it later on. I prepared my class for the shock of a sea of red, and invited personal consultation sessions to address students concerns. They seemed to appreciate the effort of me checking everything and wanted to ask questions. The next few essay drafts, I swear I saw improvements. That could have been my imagination, though.

I would be interested to hear more about recorded oral feedback, too.

Laura Adele Soracco
11/24/2013 8:07am

Thanks for commenting, Katy. I'd also like to think that I'll see improvements after all the comments, but that's another point I've thinking about. How much can I expect from just highlighting an error? Not that much, really. Ss will simply need to keep making these mistakes to learn. Perhaps part of giving comments is also not feeling like everything can or should be fixed at once. Love your 'personal consultation' story. Definitely necessary to give Ss the opportunity to discuss the feedback we've given.


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