I think all teachers struggle with this question to some extent. It is because we care.
This can lead to indecisive response to student work. We waste valuable time when we lack a plan for response and worry about the emotional reaction to our feedback.
In this post, I’m all about sharing practical strategies that will teach you how to best give constructive feedback.
I want you to feel as comfortable responding to creative writing assignments as analysis based writing or argumentative writing assignments so that you can help student writers grow without deflating their fragile egos.
Setting the Stage for Writing Feedback
I think that it’s important to remember the feeling associated with having someone else read our work.
When I was a student, it was always a mixture of anticipation and dread. Would my instructor like what I had written? Would my grade reflect the time and effort I had put into the assignment?
A couple of things before we discuss how to give constructive feedback…
👉 I think that it’s important to be clear with students upfront about the skills you’re looking for in a creative writing assignment. Frontload with exemplars and use creative writing exercises to practice skills. Then, when it comes time for students to write, they will know what they are expected to do as writers.
👉 At the same time, it’s important to focus on feedback during the writing process. This allows our response to be as readers rather than as evaluators.
👉 Finally, I think that it makes a BIG difference when you model your own creative process for students. The more I can show students that writing is messy and imperfect, that I go through the same process as them, the more my classroom dynamic shifts from teacher-centered to student-centered and collaborative. If you’re wondering how to give constructive feedback to students, ask them to give feedback to you first.
Constructive Feedback for Students
When it comes to student feedback, less is more. I’ve blogged about this before, but I’ll say it again (and again) (and…again).
Most students don’t care about our carefully-worded paragraphs. They want to be seen and heard, but they also want to be able to understand what they can do to improve.
This means that feedback should be direct, specific, and actionable.
This means that we need to respond as readers, not evaluators.
This means that we will leave a manageable amount of feedback to build a student’s momentum.
Strategies for How to Give Constructive Feedback
➡️ Only mark the lines you love the most. Highlight them, underline them, put a star in the margin. Choose a couple of these lines to comment on. What did you notice? What did you like/realize/want to know?
➡️ Focus on the skills taught in class. So, if you taught characterization and concrete details, give feedback specifically on those elements. Ask students to revisit resources/screencasts/examples, etc. to review these skills.
➡️ Focus on moments of clarity and confusion. Where did you, as a reader, make a connection or realize something important? Where were you confused?
➡️ Yin Yang Feedback
- Find something specific that you liked/enjoyed (and explain why/how). Maybe it’s a bit of figurative language or a vivid image. Pair this with a suggestion for where the writer can continue to work on this same skill. Essentially, this is like saying, “See, here, you did this thing that I liked and enjoyed…can you do more of that over here?” Or, “As a reader, it seemed to me like your intent was x, y, or z when you wrote _________. I’m wondering if you can make this clearer when _________.
- What is the highest level of skill mastery you can observe? Find an example of success and talk about why/how it was successful. What is the most important skill that still needs to be developed? Find a place where the student can begin working on this skill.
- Where were you most engaged/interested in the story. Leave a quick note about what captured your attention. Where were you least engaged/interested? This type of teacher feedback encourages revision.
➡️ Be curious. Read through the draft and ask questions… only questions. This is a kind of constructive feedback students love to hate (because it makes them think). I ask my students to respond and revise. This strategy rocks because it establishes feedback as a two-way conversation rather than a one-way lecture.
➡️ Have students direct your feedback by asking you questions about their work. Alternatively, you can ask students to reflect on how/where they have demonstrated the skills you’ve taught in class (or the goals they’ve set for themselves). Then, you simply read through and respond to their comments, sharing your thoughts and suggestions.
➡️ Use a writer’s workshop model in which you conference with students about their work. You can train students to lead in these conversations if you choose the 1:1 model. Alternatively, you can form writing circles in which you provide students examples of constructive feedback before asking students to take turns reading their work out loud and solicit feedback from group members. You can float between writing groups, joining the conversations as needed.
I hope that I’ve helped you learn more about how to give constructive feedback to creative writers.
As we become purposeful in our responses to students, the benefit is that we streamline our own systems and processes which allows us to feel better about the feedback we are giving and also the amount of time it takes to provide this feedback!
Hey, if you loved this post, I want to be sure you’ve had the chance to grab a FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading. I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m over the moon to be able to share with you some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm.
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