Student feedback should be timely and effective. When teachers give students an assignment, collect it, spend a week grading and commenting, and then return it, the application of the feedback gets lost. With the advancements in technology and technological access, there is a better, more efficient way of providing instant writing feedback to all students. Teachers can give effective feedback at the moment when the students need it the most and when comments are most applicable to writing success. This is live writing, and here’s how it works.
Set aside time in class for writing—it’s the best time for students to write because in class, they have a calm, quiet environment, technology and Wi-Fi, and teacher support. Many students lack such space and support at home.
To get a live writing session started, I generate a document with the prompt at the top or simply create an MLA writing template with nothing more than a header at the top. I upload this document into Google Classroom so that students can make a copy, then have them share back with me so that I can toggle between student papers and see their progress as they write—live. You will need to adapt this to your various technologies and learning management system, but the end goal is to have quick access to your students’ writings.
After we explore the nuances of the prompt and clarify the goals and expectations, I let the students get into their own writing and engage in the process of crafting their response in the shared document. While students get started, I click between the students’ work and make sure they are all in and writing. Students work at different paces, so as the fast writers craft their initial responses, I can give some quick comments for encouragement, redirections, or minor constructive critique. Students will see these suggestions immediately and can either make changes or come back to them later. In the meantime, I move on to other students.
Essentially, I am still doing what teachers should be doing: walking around the class while they are working, reading over their shoulders, and giving appropriate feedback while they are working. Live writing is just more private, more personal, and more engaging, and it saves kids from smelling my coffee breath in the morning.
Providing timely writing feedback
As the students are drafting and the teacher is scanning the documents, the important goal is to focus on the skill being assessed. If the class is working on introducing evidence, then the teacher should focus on providing swift feedback for that, or if the analysis of the evidence is the focus, then the teacher can comment on that. The goal is to not get bogged down by other elements or the mechanics of the writing. Instead, steer students to rework the sections that the class is focusing on.
In my experience, it should only take about 30 seconds to give some quick feedback. As with any feedback, it should be clear and concise. For example, if I am teaching thesis statements, I might write, “This is good, but be sure you make a defensible claim,” or “This is a nice summary of the controversy; can you take a clear position to defend?” I know specifically what the objective is and what the thesis should include, so I don’t bother commenting on anything else and only skim the surrounding material and assess the main skill with a quick comment. This allows me to move through the entire class of about 25 several times in a class period.
You might notice that you are writing similar responses to various students. In this case, canned comments or copying and pasting from a list of comments becomes useful. You might also notice a need to workshop a skill or reteach a concept.
Providing Instant Examples
One of the many advantages of live writing is the opportunity to workshop in the moment. If I am working on thesis statements, then I will copy and paste a couple of good thesis statements into a separate document, as well as a couple that need some work, and project my collection onto the screen. I’ll have students pause in their writing and look at the samples from their class—I keep them anonymous. We can look at the quality thesis statements and discuss their strengths, and then workshop the ones that need to be developed. As a group, the class can assess their own thesis and make changes as they see fit. I can do this in three or four minutes, and then students can get back into their writing.
By the end of the writing session, students will have crafted their own text, seen exemplary writing from their peers, potentially workshopped some of their own writing, and received some feedback from the instructor during the process in the moments they needed it most.
Beyond the beneficial outcomes for students, teachers can use this method to maximize their time. Before the class even lets out, the teacher has a snapshot of how well their students understand the skill, has the ability to reteach things that aren’t clicking immediately and catch students before they get too far off track, and has given feedback to all students without needing to take the work home.
Additionally, because the writing is tracked on a Google Doc and is being completed live in the presence of the teacher, the space for plagiarism or AI-generated responses is limited. A teacher can quite easily see if a student’s document was blank a few minutes ago and is now fully populated with beautiful prose; also, the document history charts and tracks what was written and when. This is an essential component of seeing each student’s writing process, understanding their raw writing ability prior to revision, recognizing the written voice of each student, and tracking accountability for their work.
In sum, live writing is a fast and effective tool to add to the teaching quiver. This method of writing maximizes class time for effective teaching with live feedback and commentary in the best possible moment: the present.