ESSAY IN FRAGMENT FORM
ON WRITING STUDENT FEEDBACK: 34 FRAGMENTS
1 Consider the student essay to be your own essay. What would you want an instructor to say about it? How would you like it be praised, analyzed, interpreted? 2 Be always on the look-out for what is essential. Eliminate the non-essential, in other words, and find that single point around which the essay revolves. 3 If several points compete for prominence, then bring this struggle to the attention of the student. 4 Let your praise be immoderate, as long as it is truthful. 5 No matter the subject, the essay contains a narrative. It is useful to bring this narrative to the attention of the student. 6 Reveal your understanding of the student’s essay. If the essay confuses, let your comments describe this confusion; if the essay enlightens, let your comments demonstrate this enlightenment. 7 The best way to encourage engagement is to demonstrate engagement: treat the student essay as worthy of your engagement. 8 Build your comments around the emphasis of details. 9 Be specific. 10 Quote from the student paper. (This might be, in fact, the first time that a student has ever had her words quoted.) 11 If a student paper, forum post or assignment essay suggests a greater interest, make recommendations that address this interest: a book, a web site, a film, etc. 12 The inconsequential error is just that: inconsequential. Do not allow yourself to become distracted from larger aspects of excellence. 13 The respected critic or scholar is less interesting to you than the student whose work stands before you. 14 When confronted with that which truly confuses, remember you were at one point in your intellectual life capable of such confusion. 15 Just as it is possible to write comments that are too brief, it is possible to write comments that are too long. The former suggests inattention, the latter arrogance. No one, having just written an essay, wants an essay in return. 16 Video can be included in your comments. Let appropriateness be your guide. 17 The exceptional essay invites the exceptional response. 18 Certain features of the land will appear again and again: use your previous experience to help you in composing efficient comments. 19 The comment can be any number of rhetorical forms: a paraphrase, a critique, a correction, a form of praise, and even – where plagiarism occurs – a form of lamentation. 20 The comment that is a corrective only is the least interesting one to write and to receive. 21 Rubrics are efficient ways to organize your response; however, rubrics do not allow you to acknowledge unusual instances of excellence. Your comments present you a place where this can be done. 22 Consider the rubric the flesh, and the comment the soul of your response to student work. 23 Comments can look back to what has been done, as well as anticipate what is to come. 24 All forms of communication can be places where feedback is given, where commentary has a place. 25 Never hesitate to ask if your comments make sense to the student. You think they make sense, obviously; but do they make sense to the student? 26 Always ask yourself: is this feedback useful for this student. 27 Practice an efficiency of understanding. 28 Experience the work first before putting on the robes of judgment. 29 A real delight in the work before you tells you more than you need to know. 30 Undivided attention is a form of caring. 31 Devote yourself entirely to the work before you. 32 Let your comments tell a story. 33 Learn from the feedback you give so generously. 34 Learn from the errors of the feedback you give so generously.
35 The forum is a form of conversation: remote, cool, fragmented. The instructor enters into this remote, cool, fragmented conversation in order to transform it into something vital, something that encourages the creation of an intellectual community. 36 Correction of fact is a courtesy, as well as a demonstration of it. 37 Lacking physical proximity, the discussion forum can be made proximate by discussion posts that alert student to student, idea to idea, question to question, insight to insight. 38 How is silence confronted in the physical classroom? How is silence confronted in the discussion forum? Two silences require different strategies for encouraging student participation. Keep note of what works. 39 There will be times when restraint from participation is the better choice. 40 Fun: it too has a place. 41 The ideal forum would be one whose resonances continue long after the course has ended. We row toward that goal.