Realistic Tips for Providing Feedback

In response to John Bean, Nancy Sommers, and Peter Elbow: Most English teachers I work with enjoy working with students and enjoy reading their writings. Most teachers do not write “hostile and mean-spirited” comments on students’ papers as Nancy Sommers suggests in “Responding to Student Writing” (149). Most English teachers I know have 20 to 30 students in their classes; consequently, writing extensive end comments on their papers and having three one-to-one conferences per marking period (or semester) with all the students is not feasible in a 40-minute period. Most writing teachers do their best. And here are some realistic tips to help them:

  • Some rubrics such as the 6-point or the 9-point rubric are too detailed and too intricate for high school students. These rubrics were designed for teachers and not for students. Therefore, I like Peter Elbow’s Analytic Grading Rubric since it is student-friendly. I made some revisions to his rubric to fit the needs of my students. Feel free to do the same.
Requirements and ExpectationsWent above and beyond expectations and requirements (Strong)Met expectations and requirements (OK)Did not meet expectations and requirements (Weak)
Content (on-topic, original ideas, detailed and developed ideas)


Deep, thoughtful revisions, substantive changes, not just editing


Organization, structure, and guiding the reader


Language: syntax, diction, and voice


Mechanics: spelling, grammar, punctuation, and proofreading


Overall effect:stylistic risks, voice



  • Other strategies recommended by Peter Elbow I use in my classroom are the ten-minute, nonstop freewrite, portfolios, and writing conferences. In our English Department, students are encouraged to keep their writings for four years so they can see their growth as writers and thinkers.
  • To encourage the love for writing, students need to feel that their writing matters. It is not merely for a grade. By sharing the students’ writing with the entire class, they can see that their writing impact. The student needs just one person to appreciate his or her writing. Thus, I appreciate Elbow’s observation that “writers learn to like their writing is by the grace of having a reader or two who likes it –even though it may not be that good.” If students share their writing with others, then the act of sharing may encourage them to write more.
  • Most of the time, students do not read the extensive notes in the margins or the end comment. They are only interested in the grade. Therefore, I like John Bean’s idea of a one-to-one conference or even a one-minute conference. By speaking directly to the students, they may be more inclined to revisit the paper. They may ignore your comments, but most students will not ignore you. Furthermore, students like individualized attention from their teachers. So, I try to touch base with my students during class or outside of class during office hours –even if it is for just a couple of minutes.
  • I am not a judge. I am a writing coach. Here is one of my favorite quotations from John Bean: “ Think of your commentary as a personal correspondence with the student. Use a supportive tone of a coach.”
  • From Nancy Sommers’ examples of teacher feedback, I would say try not to use cursive handwriting. Print your comments. If you feel that you are writing extensive notes, then you need to speak to the student directly.

Please feel free to add to this list. 

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