We became English teachers because we love writing and wanted to help young people become better writers. We soon discovered, however, that we were inundated with assessments and had little time to provide quality feedback. Something needed to change, so we focused on how we taught revision and how we approached giving feedback.
We begin by teaching the procedural steps of revising in the beginning of the year. After years of being frustrated that students never read our feedback or revised their writing with that feedback in mind, we decided to be as explicit as possible about the process we were expecting to see. And we shifted our practice around feedback, moving to provide targeted feedback on short assignments very quickly and then requiring students to apply the feedback in revising the work.
Explicitly Teaching Revision
We were shifting to blended learning, and we started by creating a video lesson on revision that laid out the exact steps we wanted students to be taking to revise their writing.
Locate teacher feedback: Students need to learn to use our grading system and our email system, read a rubric, and find comments from their teacher, so we provided all of that information.
Process feedback: Like many teachers, we started using a writing feedback tracker in the students’ binders, and they copy our feedback and create a goal around it.
Make revisions: We set aside class time specifically for students to use to revise their writing. It continues to be a challenge for us to allow adequate class time for this, but we know that many students won’t do high-quality revisions outside of class.
Email the teacher: We modeled how to write a polite, professional email to request that we review their revisions.
Quick, Effective Writing Feedback
Assign short writing pieces as mastery checks: If your writing assessments are short, you can give more frequent and more specific feedback. For example, we had students write three-sentence paragraphs rather than full essays to assess their ability to create a claim and use evidence to support it. Sometimes we might provide part of a writing task (like the evidence), and ask students to explain it. We found it more effective to give students short, targeted assessments than long essays that would take ages to grade.
Invest the time in making a good rubric: Your rubric should be concrete and student-friendly, and anticipate likely student errors. If your rubric includes common misconceptions, you won’t need to write out as many personalized comments. It’s important to explicitly teach students to read and interpret your rubric because rubrics are rarely as clear to students as they are to teachers, at least at first.
Use programs that help you give timely, bite-sized feedback: Using Doctopus and a well-crafted Goobric to speed up the process, we gave feedback within 24 hours. Even students who mastered a writing task the first time received at least one small thing to improve in order to practice the revision process.
Batch feedback comments: Write out a few short comments to respond to common misconceptions. Then simply copy and paste them to each assignment as needed. Chrome extensions like Google Keep and Permanent Clipboard help with this step.
Create a set of videos on basic expectations for writing: This is important because it saves us from having to take time in class to give students a refresher. We refer students to these videos instead of explaining concepts multiple times—and the students who need these reminders can watch the videos as many times as they like. “See video U0.L6c” could be shorthand for “Review how to introduce, include, and cite evidence properly, which we learned back in September.”
Outcomes and Considerations
Did all students learn to read our feedback and apply it right away? No. Many students requested feedback on work they had not revised. But we were able to flag those students early in the year and address the problem directly.
Now many students seek multiple rounds of feedback either in person or via email to truly understand a better way of completing a writing task. A large part of the reason for this is that students do not earn “mastered” on our public pacing tracker until they actually revise their work to the mastery level. The public pacing tracker—which lists the assignment, the teacher’s feedback, and the student’s goal for revision but does not include any grades—puts positive peer pressure on our students to always be willing to improve their writing, and they in turn put positive pressure on us to give them feedback quickly.
The benefits of this model vastly outweigh the inconvenience of needing to do the grading quickly. Our students are hungry for feedback, and they take our feedback more seriously and pay more attention to it because they know the pacing tracker will not budge until the work is truly mastered. We are promoting a mindset of constant revisions that reflects real-life writing practice.