Day 14 of the Reflective Teaching Challenge asks us to consider what sort of feedback we provide for students and how well we think we do.
Feedback on papers is. so. hard. It's hard to do well, at least, because (I think) there are so many approaches. Too many comments and the student would be overwhelmed and I would be exhausted and permanently behind (as if I'm not already!). Not enough comments and, well, do they even know if the instructor read?
I'm thinking of a pre-college level writing course and their homework. I assign three types of writing: journals, article summary-responses, and of course, essays. Since I collect something every day from those students, I have to move pretty fast on feedback. I see journal feedback as more of a conversation. Since the journals are designed to get students connected with the reading and assist with comprehension, I see them as an opportunity to just get to know the students. What insights do they have? What did they like about the reading? (Did they understand it?) So I might make a couple of margin comments asking them questions or telling them why a particular statement stood out to me.
Article Sum-Responses are more academic in nature, so after giving them extensive feedback the first time they submit these, I tend to just read and make sure they are not plagiarizing unintentionally (it happens) and understood the gist of the article, which they attach. Sometimes I can interact with them in their response to the article, which is more personal in nature.
For essay drafts, I provide a couple of layers of feedback. Yes, it's an English course, so if I notice patterns of error I will point those out. Some essays are full of typos, and while I don't identify all of those, I might just indicate that they need to spend more time in the proofreading process. I still make margin comments asking questions designed to get them to reconsider weaker areas (instead of "develop this" "Can you tell me more about what happened? I feel like something is missing here.") I then put an overall comment at the top.
Admittedly, these kinds of margin comments are time-consuming, and sometimes I resort to "Remember AXES for paragraphs" or something like it in the margins. It is not a perfect system. I am sure I do a better job on some papers than others.
Lately I've been trying to be complimentary in a way that encourages growth, not just in a vague "this is a great paper" sort of a way. Whether it's a solid or not-so-great draft, I try to locate a specific talent they have. Nerdy as it might sound, "You have a knack for explaining the quotes you locate--you really understand the reading and how it applies to your situation!" might be one.
I don't think we can hit everything a student is doing well or what they need to work on when grading a paper, even if we comment on more than one draft. Maybe that is the point! I'm trying to remember that I'm just the guide; I can't cover everything.