Category Archives: Evaluation & Assessment

Tip #5: What are some useful tips on commenting on a student’s paper?

Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Commentary[1]by Adria Bader

Commentary DO’s:

  • Read a draft all the way through BEFORE you begin to comment on it
  • Spend at least 20 to 40 minutes commenting on a single draft
  • Use a number/comment system instead of LONG marginal comments
  • Raise questions from a reader’s point of view; note points that may not have occurred to the writer
  • Focus on the overall problems of content before looking at surface level errors (i.e. grammar, spelling)
  • Phrase comments clearly and carefully (The average Joe should be able to read the commentary and understand what needs to be changed.)
  • Make comments text-specific, referring specifically to that writer’s draft (NO “rubber stamps” such as “awkward” or “unclear” or “vague”
  • Direct comments to breaks in logic, disruptions in meaning, and/or missing information
  • Structure comments to help writers to clarify their purposes and reasons in writing that specific draft
  • Offer SUGGESTIONS, not commands, when possible
  • Comment through the use of questions (“This sentence confuses me a little; can you reword it to make it more clear? OR “Could you make a stronger transition between these two points?”)
  • Look for unexplained “Code Words” in the draft and ask the writer about them (“What exactly does `Different aspects’ mean here?”)
  • End comments should include the main STRENGTHS in a writer’s draft as well as 2 or 3 of the most important things that need improvement
  • If something appears too complicated to write in the commentary, just mention that you have something that you would like to talk to the writer about when you have your conference.
  • If the writer is not sure that they have understood the assignment, and you aren’t sure either, don’t be afraid to tell the writer to talk with his or her professor

 

Commentary DON’Ts:

  • Don’t write commentary in red ink
  • Don’t turn the writer’s paper into YOUR paper
  • Don’t contradict yourself (“Condense this sentence,” followed by, “You need to be more specific and develop this paragraph.”)
  • Don’t overwhelm a writer with too much commentary
  • Don’t take forever in your commenting on a draft: remember, the writer needs ample time to revise.

 

For another perspective, here’s a link to a related (brief) article entitled “The Rhetoric of Paper-Marking, Or A Wheelbarrow for Sisyphus” by Ray Smith, Director, Campus Writing Program at Indiana University, Bloomington: http://citl.indiana.edu/services/writing/wheelbarrow.php

It appeared in the Teaching Resources Center Newsletter; Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall 1997

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Tip #4: How do I create an effective rubric?

What is a Rubric[1]?    

A rubric is an explicit hierarchy of achievement expectations organized along specific dimensions. Rubrics allow students to understand exactly what is expected for an assignment and what score any given response should elicit. Ideally, if a student has a rubric for an assignment, she or he should know what to do and be able to tell how well she or he did it.

Why use a Rubric?

  • Students know what is expected of them.
  • Students can peer review more effectively.
  • Work is generally better by the time it arrives on the professor’s desk.
  • Professors can grade more efficiently and more consistently.

When should I use a rubric?

Any assignment longer than a few sentences, including most writing-to-learn assignments, should have graduated expectations attached to it.

How many dimensions are enough?

It depends on the assignment. In some cases such as an assignment which is designed to get people thinking, you might use development or creativity. Some dimensions may be irrelevant for a particular kind of assignment: grammar and mechanics, for example, would be irrelevant in a writing-to-learn assignment. There are also some dependent dimensions as well: if the assignment requires quoting from sources, using the research rubric but not the citation rubric would not be efficacious.

What constitutes an effective rubric?

  • Describes rather than evaluates a student’s answer to the given question. Good, better, and best cannot help a student learn; the student needs to know what specific features turn something good into something better.
  • Guides students toward a better answer to the given question.
  • Provides a description that clearly and logically indicates an inevitable grade.
  • Makes legitimate self-assessment possible.
  • Convinces people of its validity and utility.
  • Can be applied with inter-rater reliability

George Mason University offers sample rubrics sorted by academic department: http://wac.gmu.edu/assessing/assessing_student_writing.php#rubrics