Helping students with focused feedback

Last semester (Spring 2015), I did some serious reflection on my feedback to my FYC students. It was fueled by Nancy Sommers’ book Responding to Student Writers, which I came across in this article by Paul T. Corrigan. Sommers makes a compelling case for why feedback to students’ papers/writing needs to be succinct and pragmatic. Backed by Sommers’ own research and teaching experience, she argues that students get easily and frequently overwhelmed by lengthy and generic feedback by teachers. Teachers may think that they have a responsibility to point out every tiny mistake that the student makes, but such approach overloads students, leaves them discouraged, dents their confidence, and leave them with a less manageable plan to improve themselves as writers. Sommers advocates for a feedback strategy that takes an incremental or one-problem-at-a-time approach to motivate writers with a manageable and focused learning plan. Sommers also provides few useful templates on how to involve students in the feedback process. This recent article on Faculty Focus by Maryellen Weimer also echoes similar views for a “focused,” “concrete” and “descriptive” feedback to help students who are doing poorly in class. I implemented Sommers’ feedback method in Spring 2015 for two of my ENG 101 writing classes. It’s too early for me to claim any success. Also, I strongly feel that Sommers’ strategy may yield more beneficial outcome in developmental writing courses than in educational institutions where first-year writing students are already sufficiently developed writers.