Giving feedback for the Reader Project involves special considerations. Please read carefully!
Leave the work in the student’s hands ……When the editor of a magazine or the reviewer for a scholarly journal gives feedback to an author, the primary aim is to improve the text. In contrast, the aim of the Reader Project is to develop the writer. So while certain ways of interacting with an author may be appropriate and effective in other contexts, we’re looking for something different here. In particular, readers need to be careful to avoid “taking over” the student’s project, for two reasons: (1) to ensure that students meet the Duke Community Standard for ethical behavior, students should make all of the decisions about their work; and (2) students will learn more if you can help them recognize things that need to be changed and the reasons for those changes, rather than doing the changing for them. Since your primary role here is to be a reader rather than an editor, try to describe your reactions to what you read, rather than tell the student what to do. It’s fine to just let students know where you get lost, bored, confused, frustrated, and so on, without suggesting specific changes to address those issues; in fact, that’s what we expect you to do most of the time. In general, while editing tools such as “Track Changes” are good for collaborative writing, they’re less-well suited to helping students become better writers; since your suggestions come with a considerable mantle of authority, students can be tempted to passively accept your suggested changes, rather than considering what kind of change is warranted, which makes it harder for students to maintain ownership of their work.
That said, there will be many occasions where students can benefit from your advice. Give advice where it seems warranted, but try to do so in terms of principles students can apply in the future, rather than as only specific fixes to specific problems or errors. For example, instead of this: “You should insert a sentence here that says…,” try this: “When I hear this kind of ___, I like [or expect] to see an explicit statement of the question or problem that will be addressed. Is that something you might do here to help me understand just where this is headed?”
Let students know what’s working! …..While you will want to let students know about difficulties you have trying to make sense of their drafts, you should also let them know what’s good. These comments will encourage them to keep doing the things they’re doing well. Even brief comments such as “This is clear” or “OK, I’m following you here” give students valuable information.
Our Recommendation: The Think Aloud Response
A think-aloud response is a running, oral commentary that helps authors get a sense of how readers respond to what they’ve produced. While readers cannot literally describe their actual thinking, they can share their “thoughts” about what they are expecting and the value of what they get in relation to those expectations. This is quite different from the kind of feedback most teachers give to students or that editors give to writers. Rather than identifying mistakes, suggesting changes, or asking questions, the think-aloud helps students understand how their writing “works.” You might think of the think-aloud as a kind of test drive of a draft. This approach will take a bit more time up front, since you’ll have to learn how to record your response and what to say when you do it, but we think it’s the best way to capitalize on what you have to offer.
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