Writing Resources for
Departments, Teachers, & Students

Responding to Student Writing

Creating Effective Assignment Criteria

The single best way I know to make grading easier, more coherent, and faster, is to develop, share, and use grading criteria. It may take a little time and experimentation to work out what exactly you want students to be showing in a given paper, but that time is repaid when it comes time to grade.

Why develop explicit assignment criteria?

What makes for good criteria?

How can criteria streamline grading?

Commenting--What can one say on papers, and how can it be said efficiently and effectively?

  1. Key your comments to the grading criteria. Commenting keyed to your criteria (see above) will help you save time and communicate more clearly with students.
  2. Resist marking papers for grammatical errors. As counterintuitive as it might seem, marking grammar errors actually doesn't help most students and can in fact be at cross-purposes with your assignment goals. How? It can keep you from commenting on higher order skills, and it can distract students from content and higher order writing skills. Most students are familiar with sentence-level error, but the more challenging students find an assignment to be, the more surface-level mistakes shows up in their drafts.
  3. More comments are not always better. In fact, it can turn out to be much worse! Studies have shown that except under special conditions students do not--maybe even cannot-process more than a limited number of comments. (One way to expand students' processing of comments is to build a rewrite step into your assignment or to ask students to write a short revision plan in response to your comments.)
  4. Point out specifically where and how students have been successful. This is at least as effective in improving student writing as pointing out where they are having difficulties.
  5. You don't have to comment on all writing assignments. You don't have time nor is it effective to comment on--or even read--all the writing you ask students to produce over the quarter. Be sure to explain, however, what you will read and make sure you have some way to validate all your students' work (for example, by collecting all assignments in a portfolio submitted at the end of the quarter).

Ways to Comment on Student Writing

There are many more ways to "validate" student writing than the traditional "read-them-all-and-comment-and-grade" strategy. Below are some different ways you can comment on students papers to help them carry out the revisions necessary for future writing assignments.

Modes of response I try to avoid include advising/prescribing and correcting/editing. Advising differs from description and conversation by slipping into prescription, and as such compromises my goal of making students responsible for the choices and changes they make in drafts. Correcting and editing for misspelled words, comma splices, or other similar errors in student writing similarly limits students' ability to edit on their own. Corrections also take emphasis away from the higher order skills to be demonstrated in the draft.