Building Hopeful Secondary School Writers through Effective Feedback Strategies

By Sieben, Nicole | English Journal, July 2017 | Go to article overview

Building Hopeful Secondary School Writers through Effective Feedback Strategies


Sieben, Nicole, English Journal


In my first year as a high school English teacher, I remember one distinct practice revision I needed to make early in my first month of teaching: my practice of providing feedback on students' writing. As a novice teacher of high school writers, I had set the goal of providing students with effective feedback to reflect on and use as a springboard for future writing so they could develop as hopeful, skillful writers. However, my first attempt fell short of this goal because I had provided an overabundance of feedback, which proved to be overwhelming for students. Mindful of this outcome, I set an intention to learn strategic ways of providing concise, yet comprehensive, feedback so students could grow as writers in my classroom. I wanted students to have hope while writing and be confident in their potentials to experience growth in their writing processes.

That year, I had three classes of seniors taking a composition course for college credit. They had multiple summer writing assignments to complete, and when I collected them I was determined to give the most extensive and helpful feedback I could. I spent hours on each paper providing all-inclusive feedback-detailed marginal notes on every page, endnotes on the last page, and summative notes on the performance assessment rubric. Not only did I respond to students' ideas, but I also corrected every grammatical error on every page. I covered every ounce of every page in green pen.

What I know now, and quickly learned from my students then, was that with feedback, less can certainly be more. When I returned the graded papers to my students, I saw despair in their eyes. I saw tears welling up and palms hitting foreheads and desktops. And then I heard, "Are you kidding me? I am a GOOD writer! This is insane!" This comment came from a student who had received a B+ on her assignment. Her paper had been strong and did not need much revision to move into the "A range," which I had written in my endnote to her; however, with all of the comments, arrows, and editing symbols decorating her paper in green throughout, I doubt she had even seen that.

Another hand intentionally waved in my face. "Are you a hard grader? Because I have never gotten a paper back like this before . . . IN . . . MY . . . LIFE!" And then the student's foot began to tap nervously on the floor while his eyes looked up at me with disdain and disapproval.

My students were outraged, and with good reason. I needed to remedy this, so I asked my students: What sort of feedback do you think would be most helpful to you in improving your writing skills this year? I asked myself, How can I be the "hope creator" I aim to be?

What follows is a combination of what I have learned from my students as a high school English teacher and what I have learned as a researcher from speaking with teachers and high school and college students over the past five years about what sort of feedback has been most helpful in students' development as writers. The research question that frames this work is: What type of feedback is most effective in secondary students' development as hopeful and competent writers? Through interviews, focus groups, and surveys of students and teachers, I gained insight into this inquiry. I used open coding when examining the data and looked for overlapping themes in responses. Six main categories of strategies emerged, which I have since shared in professional development (PD) sessions with writing teachers. The ELA teachers who have employed these strategies with their students have also informed the refinement of these strategies.

When I provide professional development on robust practices in teaching writing through a strengths-based approach, one of the first goals teachers articulate is they want to learn how to provide effective feedback on students' writing: feedback that students will appreciate and use in their revision processes. In professional learning communities, we discuss what types of feedback strategies they have found effective and what types have fallen short. …

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