Posted to ACW-L, WCenter,
NCTE-Talk, and TEACH on 8/1/98.
Kathleen Rippberger of MiraCosta College
asked me to come up with some positive ways to respond to
student drafts. Here goes....
First, yes, I'll confess that I have used
"cut and paste" to repeat the same sentence over and over
when replying to papers online. This Ten includes things
that I've tried to make responses more meaningful and
supportive for writers than those cut and paste
If you use one of these techniques, it's
useful to talk with students about the responses you'll
share so they'll be prepared for the feedback and to discuss
ways to use your responses as they continue work on their
papers. Since a number of the ways of responding differ from
the standard end comments that students are used to, group
discussion of how to use the feedback is especially
- Have students write a
reflective piece on the drafts that they are submitting
and respond to their reflections in your comments, rather
than to the draft itself. This is one of the old
stand-bys. I ask students to tell me what their concerns
and focal points are; I respond to their perceptions of
the text. Since it's as important for writers to be able
to read and think about their text as it is for them to
do the actual writing, this technique works well -- and
it keeps me from telling them what I think about their
text. Instead, we enter a conversation about THEIR
perceptions of the text. If you've not tried this before,
you might begin by asking students to include responses
to three issues:
- What part of this draft is the strongest?
- What part of this draft will you work on next?
- Turn in 3 what-if's. Imagine at least 3 things that
you might do to change this text: tell me what they are
and why you're thinking of doing them. Begin your
response with "What if" -- for example, What if I cut the
second paragraph completely?
- Use a template that focuses
on student-generated guidelines for the assignment. I
have my students read examples of drafts written by
students who have worked on a similar assignment in the
past and/or professional examples in their books. They
create criteria for the assignment, and we shape the
criteria into a response template or checklist. The
criteria might have broad categories such as
"Readability, Clarity, Interest Level, and Organization"
or "Ideas, Purpose, and Meaning." I focus my response on
the areas that they have identified, referring to the
guidelines and examples that they identified in class.
Since the students own the guidelines used for the
evaluation, I'm simply applying their criteria -- not the
insane eccentricities of an English teacher.
- Use journalist's questions
to structure a response -- not all of my examples are
questions, strictly speaking, but they provide a nice
paradigm for moving through feedback to a draft. I modify
the questions as appropriate for the draft and
assignment. For instance, the "when" question below would
work best for a draft that is close to completion. If I
were working with an earlier draft, I change the question
to something such as "When I read the details in your
draft, I...." I like to use these as thinking questions,
asking students to respond to me, entering a conversation
about their text either online in Daedalus Mail, in
conferences, or in writer's journals (see
below). Generally, I use some version of the following
questions. Sometimes all 6 are more than I have time or
energy to do, so I choose 2 or 3 and use those for all
the drafts I'm reading.
- Who is this draft written for? Who is the
- What is this draft about? What is its purpose?
- Where do details and specifics stand out? Where does
the text SHOW well?
- When I get to the end of the draft, I...?
[complete the sentence & explain -- for example,
"I wondered whether the hidden money would ever be
- Why did you...? It's an interesting
choice/technique/etc. Why did you choose it?
- How would your draft change if you ...?
- Respond to the
draft from three different points of view. I like to use
this technique when we've been talking about the
different audiences for a piece and the ways that
different readers respond to a text. Depending upon the
subject of the draft, I might respond as another student,
as an older student, as someone else who has read the
same work (or seen the same work of art/movie) -- or as
someone who hasn't, and so on. I try to fit these points
of view to the particular assignment. For instance, if
the assignment is a letter to the editor of the local
paper, I might respond as the editor of the paper, as a
concerned citizen who is interested in the same issue,
and as a citizen who didn't realize that there was a
problem. Once I get two or three concrete responses
written, I add one silly one. For instance, I might
respond as Bart Simpson or a character in a story we've
read recently. I try to use several different characters
in each class for variety -- especially since students
enjoy sharing the silly responses with one another.
- Write two paragraphs in
response to a draft. In one, use you-language, and in the
other, use I-language. In the "you" paragraph, echo
things that you have read in the paper, giving writers
the chance to compare what a reader sees in the paper
with their intentions. For example, I might write, "you
seem to be sad that the playground has been torn down." I
focus on what I see as the writer's intentions, goals,
and strengths (not the weaknesses). In the "I" paragraph,
I indicate my feelings about the text. For instance, I
might write, "I was confused about the garden. It is
mentioned several times, but I couldn't understand why it
was important" or "I felt sad reading the details about
the playground equipment piled in the trash heap."
- Respond to a partial draft
by outlining what you think will happen next and why.
This kind of response works well early in the drafting
process, especially with narrative papers or arguments. I
generally write two short paragraphs. The first
summarizes what happens in the text up to the end of the
draft. The second guesses at least three things that I
think might happen next. As is the case when I use three
different points of view (see #4),
I include one silly response -- something absurd or
unlikely or humorous.
- "Talk Less, Ask More." I
attended a keynote by Alfie Kohn last week here in
Austin. Kohn urged us to "talk less and ask more" --
rather than telling students what they have or haven't
done correctly. Ask them how they feel about their text,
why they have included the details that they have, what
they want to try next. Ask them what concerns they have,
and what they think can be done to address these
concerns. These techniques work best when you respond
online in Daedalus Mail, in conference, or in a writer's
journal (see #10),
since you're asking students to share details about their
- Write a review of the draft.
This technique works well after we've done an assignment
where students have written a book review or a movie
review or after we've considered reviews of a text,
artwork, or film in class. In response to their papers, I
write a short review of my own. This works especially
well with narrative or creative assignments.
- Work on the connection
between reading comprehension and writing: respond with
summary, implied main idea, logical conclusions.
Demonstrate how reading comprehension techniques apply to
reading rough drafts. Write a one-sentence summary of the
draft, write a sentence identifying the draft's main
idea, and write a sentence or two drawing conclusions
about the text. Be sure that each is labeled clearly, and
then talk about how to use the information (e.g., writers
should think about whether the implied main idea you've
identified fits the purpose they had for writing? You
might ask them whether there is anything they might
change to make the main idea clearer to readers.)
- Use a
Writer's Response Journal over the course of the term. It
might be unfair to include this as technique. It's a way
to create on-going conversations with writers. When I am
working in a computer-based classroom, I can use Daedalus
Mail to enter into extended conversations about writing.
When that is not possible, I use a writer's response
journal -- students turn in a journal with their drafts.
In the journal, they should give me details about their
text, questions they want to ask, and so forth. I include
my response to their draft in their journal rather than
as an end comment on the paper. My response is likely to
include questions for them -- based on techniques like
those above. As work progresses during the term, I
encourage students to reread their journals and note
changes they see. Periodically, I read back over older
entries as well. The interaction in the journal is much
like that of Daedalus Mail messages or conferences, but
it can be a stronger tool in the long-run because it
collects all the comments in writing and in one linear
space. When time constraints or the workload make
journals impossible to use for the entire term, I use
them for a major project or research paper.
Posted August 1, 1998 on the Daedalus Website.