Quick Tip Tuesday: Strategies for responding to student work

December 30th, 2008

In Joan Brodsky-Schur’s American history class at the Village Community School in New York, students interact with various primary sources to get a deeper understanding of historical events and figures, and to explore history through differing points of view. In her book, Eyewitness to the Past, Joan says that she asks her students to do a significant amount of writing as they respond to these primary sources or use the sources as models to create their own historical diary entries, newspaper articles, or letters. “I am well aware of the pressure this puts on educators who simply do not have the time to read and respond to everything students write,” Joan says, adding that teachers should assign the work anyway and then find creative ways to read and respond.

Over the years I have adapted many strategies to keep my students writing while keeping myself sane. I always thoroughly respond to work that is being revised for the public to see, whether it will be shared in print, online, or on a bulletin board. Unless they are required to fix their mistakes, most students do not pay attention to all those red marks. So I do not waste my efforts; I want them to pay off. I usually am not the first reader who has looked for mistakes or made suggestions for improvement of the content. I often pair students or put them into writer’s workshop groups to do this for one another before a draft gets to me.
This year I experimented with using the track changes feature in Microsoft Word. It is widely adopted in the business world and therefore a valuable tool for students to learn. Essentially, students email their work to me or post it electronically on our class bulletin board. I download it to my computer where I turn on the track change feature and make my comments and corrections directly on the electronic version of their papers. I email their work back to them and students then have the option to accept my changes or not and can make further revisions.

It always helps students when they are given the rubrics ahead of time so they know in advance how they will be evaluated. In each category students can earn from one to five points. A student who does not follow instructions and whose work reflects little to no mastery of English skills and social studies content receives a one. This student’s work is given no credit and thus the student must redo it. … A student receives five for outstanding work and original thinking. This student is often a gifted writer and avid reader who brings to the task extensive learning acquired not only in the classroom but well beyond it.

In strategizing how to maximize the effect of my feedback to students, I pay special attention to the first assignments in a series. For example, if students are writing a sequence of four letters, I want to make certain that they are on the right track as early as possible. I focus my time responding to their first letter, because if they do not understand what they are expected to do they will run into problems in subsequent letters. However, I may well not have the time to respond to each student’s first letter individually. In that case, I might read out loud to the class some student work that best exemplifies what I am looking for in the assignment. Anonymously, of course, I might also read out an example of student work that is lacking on some score as well.

For their subsequent letters I might ask some students to read aloud their work in class on a rotating basis or I might skim their letters, evaluating them based on just a few criteria each time. For example, I might say to the class, “On the next assignments I will be looking to see that you incorporate at least five facts into your letters, and that you write in complete sentences.” Or I might announce, “This time I will be looking for a well-reasoned explanation of why you do or do not support the tactics used in the Boston Tea Party. I will also pay special attention to your spelling.” Then I read the set of letters with only those things in mind, which makes the process much quicker for me. Or I might not read several of the letters at all. Instead, I might ask students to keep their letters in a portfolio of their work and then ask them to choose the one letter they think reflects their best work for me to grade.

Do you have a tip for responding to student work? Share it in the comments section.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Writing

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