Giving feedback

Giving feedback for the Reader Project involves special considerations. Please read carefully!

Instead of telling the student what to do, describe your reactions to what you read. Let the student know where you can follow the ideas and where you get lost; where you’re engaged and where you’re bored, confused, or frustrated; where you find an argument compelling and where you’re skeptical. It’s fine to do this without suggesting specific changes to address those issues; in fact, that’s what we expect you to do most of the time. 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 fixes to specific problems in their paper. For example, instead of this: “You should insert a sentence here that says…,” try this: “When I read this kind of paper, I want to see an explicit statement of the question or problem that will be addressed so I can understand where the paper is headed. Is that something you might do here?”

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” or “That’s pretty convincing” give students valuable information.

Leave the work in the student’s hands–use comments instead of “Track Changes.” In general, editing tools such as “Track Changes” are good for collaborative writing but less-well suited to helping students become better writers, since students can be tempted to passively accept your suggested changes rather than deciding for themselves which changes to make. Students will learn more if you can help them recognize where changes are needed, rather than doing the changing for them.

Two Methods:

1) “Reader-based” written comments: Read examples of “reader-based” written feedback from prior courses, and check to see if there’s a specific example on the course page from a previous volunteer in that course.

2) “Think-aloud Responses”: One type of feedback that works well for the Reader Project is called a “think-aloud response.” For this type of feedback, you go through the student’s paper point-by-point while talking to them in real time, describing your reaction to what you’ve read and allowing the student to ask questions in response. This kind of feedback–a kind of test drive of the draft–is quite different from the feedback that most teachers give to students or that editors give to writers. Students have found this kind of feedback quite powerful. 

Listen to excerpts of “think-aloud responses” from prior semesters.

Read detailed instructions on how to do a think-aloud response.