Developmental Feedback

Developmental Feeback | by Ann Krabach

Effective developmental feedback points out strengths and weaknesses when addressing major issues of logic, organization, development or correctness. When providing developmental feedback, an instructor often acts as coach, commentator, or even devil’s advocate, pointing out ways the paper can be improved, asking questions, and/or challenging the author’s ideas. In other words, comments intended to improve writing are pretty much the same as those that lead to improved thinking in any forum.

Elaine Lees in “Evaluating Student Writing” points out that response falls into two categories. 1) Placing the Burden on the Teacher: Correcting, Emoting, Describing, and 2) Placing the Burden on the Student: Suggesting, Questioning, Reminding (of class discussion, assignments, etc.)

Ways of Giving Feedback

Engage in “dialogue” with the writer in the margins as you read through the paper. Write questions, responses, etc. Write a general comment at the end of the paper, summarizing the strengths, weaknesses and suggestions for improvement. Compose a separate comment sheet. Store these comments in your computer so you can see how the writer responded to them. Conference with the writers in groups or one-to-one.

Hierarchy for Commenting on Students’ Papers

Keep in mind that it is often more effective to have a student revise a paper before applying feedback from one paper to the next.

  1. Comment first on global (higher-order) concerns: Does the paper follow the assignment? Are the audience and purpose clear? Does the writer have a thesis that addresses an appropriate problem or question or issue? Do the organization and development conform to expectations in your discipline? What is the quality of the argument? Logic? Development? Complexity? How well is the paper organized? Are the paragraphs unified and coherent? Are sentence structure, syntax, and diction clear?
  2. Next, (or perhaps, in the next draft, if the paper is to be revised), Comment on local (lower-order) concerns: Are there stylistic problems? What one or two errors are frequently repeated and interfere most with your reading of the paper? Are there general problems with grammar or punctuation that indicate poor proofreading skills?

To Make this Job Easier

Through your comments, shift responsibility for revision to your students. When suggesting that changes should be made, don’t dictate what these changes should be.

Respond mainly to content, making the job more enjoyable as well as easier. Students often react by clearing up mistakes in grammar and punctuation without your having to mention them.

Focus on only one or two major problems in the paper;

Respond to early drafts of papers. The revised final draft will be much easier to read and to grade;

Have students confer with peers and revise the paper before you respond to it;

Require students to submit with their revised papers memos explaining changes they have made;

Leave the role of proofreader and editor to the student: Mark only one or two instances of an error, or mark “X” next to lines containing the error, or lower the student’s grade until errors are located and corrected;

Provide handouts or sample papers illustrating your expectations for writing in the course.

Sample Comments

Higher-Order Concerns

  • “While this example illustrates lack of funding for teacher training, I don’t see how it supports the assertion that the theory of Bilingual Education is flawed. Is it the theory or the practice?
  • Do you need to re-think your thesis? If you need help, see me or a writing center tutor.”
  • “I was able to follow your argument to this point. Now, I’m lost. To better see the logic and organization of the rest of the paper, write out the main idea of each paragraph. Then, you can see what you need to do next.”
  • “Now that you have outlined your basic argument, I suggest you focus on development of your ideas. Appropriate examples, facts, statistics, or explanation can be included in the areas marked.”

Lower- Order Concerns

  • “Your paper is well thought out and developed. But I find the many errors distracting. Proofread and re-submit.”
  • “The many fragments in this paper slowed down my reading considerably. Fix them.”

Recommended Reading

Bean, John C. Engaging Ideas; The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.

Moss, Andrew and Holder, Carol. Improving Student Writing: A Guidebook for Faculty in all Disciplines. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, 1988.