Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed. highlights some of the best practices from Nancy Sommers’ new book, Responding to Student Writers. One of the most helpful insights is the ability to recognize that our comments to students may be contradictory, misleading, or vague, and that the real purpose of offering feedback to students is to “teach one lesson at a time.”
“We should ‘ask ourselves: What single lesson do I want to convey to students through comments? And how will I teach this lesson?'”
In 1982, Nancy Sommers published the landmark, award-winning essay “Responding to Student Writing.” That essay has helped many teachers think more intentionally and act more skillfully when they respond to what students write. Sommers shows how teachers too often write comments that come off as “arbitrary,” “idiosyncratic,” “contradictory,” and even “mean,” even though they put a lot of time and attention into commenting (p. 149-50). While the essay gives a needed call to pay more attention to how and why we comment, it comes off a bit hard on teachers, perhaps unjustifiably so in some cases, as Howard Tinberg has noted (p. 263). Now, thirty years later, Sommers takes up the same questions in a more positive, more practical, and more fully developed way, in her new book, Responding to Student Writers.
In the introduction, Sommers establishes the value of assigning and responding to student writing. She describes a large study…
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