Two thoughts

1. When I was visiting my parents for fall break, I was rummaging through some old papers and ran across an annotated bibliography I had written for a literature course on the theme of courtly love in Troilus and Criseyde and The Canterbury Tales. The paper had no comments but the following:

A- (90) See CS. Good content and bibl form

The comma splice, which was utterly a careless error on my part as I knew the mechanical rule in that case, was marked on one of the pages.

The thing is, that's about representative of the comments I got on all the papers I ever wrote in college (undergrad), even in composition classes. I never got comments anywhere near as substantive as the ones I give my students. I'm wondering if it's maybe just because my papers were good, and because of that the professors didn't see much need to make that many comments (and students with weaker writing skills got more comments), or what. In my classes this semester, I've asked students what kinds of comments they've gotten on their writing in the past, what kinds of comments are helpful, etc. I think I'll share this story with them. Actually, at the time I didn't think anything of it or expect more comments than that. It is said that some students don't read the comments anyway, so maybe some professors don't see much point in making them. Do comments really help? Do they only help if the paper gets a bad grade? Jonathan and I discussed this briefly, and he had a different experience in college -- more of a range, with some professors making very lengthy and detailed comments and others making minimal comments. He always appreciated them (and I assume he got As on most of his papers). What do the rest of you think? What kinds of comments did you get on your writing when you were in college? (Or high school.) How do they compare with the comments you make on your students' writing?

[Edited to add: Lest you think otherwise, I know there's a copious body of literature on responding to student writing. I've read a good bit of it. The articles I've read, though, have tended to compare ways that teachers respond to student writing and argue that facilitative comments are better than directive comments. I'm more interested in what students have to say about the comments and what student expectations are regarding comments. I know that comments can influence students' motivation and confidence levels, but I guess I need to read more Nancy Sommers to get specifics.]

[Okay, I keep thinking of more to add. Where I went to college, the professors have high caps and heavy teaching loads. The assumption may well have been "I'll put a grade on this paper, and the student can always come to my office if he/she wants some clarification about the grade." Reading some of the comments at Dean Dad's (linked below) made me think that, especially with all the time spent on email with students, how much commentary can professors realistically provide on any one paper in anything resembling a timely fashion if they have 100+ of them to grade?--and possibly have any energy left? I guess the point is, I really don't blame my professors; I know they were worked hard and probably just trying to balance work and life. The professor who graded my annotated bibliography (now retired), for example, was the single mother of a teenager at the time.]

2. I wonder if there are any studies that examine the influence of email communication between students and professors on retention and attrition rates. In recent years, for example, professors have become obligated to email students who have missed two or three class periods in a row to inquire about their absence and do more to help them get caught up (I realize this must be different in large lecture courses). There are many factors that affect retention and attrition, I understand, including adjunct labor, but I'm still curious. It may not even be possible to design a study that isolates email communication as a factor.


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Comments on papers

What do the rest of you think? What kinds of comments did you get on your writing when you were in college? (Or high school.)

I don't have much to say about papers in high school, because I wasn't there to write them. I'm a dropout.

As for college, I received my share of responses like "A. Good job." In fact, I just mentioned that one in class yesterday, leading to a discussion on what kinds of input my students found most helpful. The debate wasn't over long comments versus short comments, but written comments versus conferences. (It was pretty evenly split, with slightly more students thinking written comments were more useful. They liked being able to refer to a page of written comments when they were revising.)

I should clarify, however, that I'm talking about comments on drafts, not final versions. My own professors in college didn't review drafts, much less make comments on them. My own approach is strongly in favor of commenting on drafts, with fewer comments on the final version.

I did receive some good comments on some of the papers I wrote in college. The challenge was to learn from those comments and apply them to other papers on other subjects.

Incidentally, I think my experience as a single parent may actually enhance my teaching, including the comments I write on student papers. True, time management is an issue. But I would want any teacher of my children to take their education seriously; it's only fair for me to do the same for those I teach.


commenting on student work

I tend to write fairly lengthy comments, if they are warranted, but I limit myself, as much as possible, to three major concerns. I mark the usual nit-picky stuff in the margins, the comma splices and such, but not all of them by any means, along with a few comments about whatever seems appropriate at the time. One thing I do is rather than just give a "you need a more focused thesis" comment, I usually hunt down a sentence, often in the conclusion, and suggest they use it as a thesis, explaining why it would be a good idea and how they can better develop the essay around that line. I'll do something similar with their paragraphs as well if it's needed. Even with this, I tend to keep essay reading and commenting to about 15 minutes an essay for a three or four page essay.bradb

Comments on students

Comments on a student's work is helpful. When I was a student, looking through a passed work of mine, I always find the comments made first. This lets me find out where I did wrong. But, for some students, they consider a teacher's comments as a bad thing so they lose interest. They take the comments as something negative than something positive for them.

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