Providing useful written feedback to students is critical to improving their writing. One best practice, using criterion-referenced rubrics, is already covered on the Assessment page.
The resources here will outline best practices and tools for providing productive written feedback to students.
provide useful Instructor or Teaching Assistant Feedback
Instructors and lab teaching assistants should remind students of the purpose of feedback:
Commenting on student lab reports serves multiple purposes, but the overarching purpose is to show students how to write a good lab report (or to improve students’ lab report quality).
Research on responding to student writing confirms that over-commenting can do more harm than good (offering too many negative comments often gives students an inaccurate view of who they are as writers and who they might become).
Our comments should address multiple purposes – to inspire, to encourage, to nurture, to evaluate; Our students need respect and honesty, not harshness or mean-spiritedness.
Creating a link between classroom instruction and feedback comments is important. The most useful comments are those that provide reference to the classroom context and instruction.
Don't become an editor. Do not comment on or correct every single (and repeating) mistake in the report. For editing feedback, it is good practice to identify patterns of error instead.
Instructors and lab teaching assistants should provide select comments in the report margins:
Without marginal comments, students conclude that their readers merely glanced at their words. Make sure marginal comments are there in digital forms as well.
Excessive marginal comments can negatively impact the students. Our intentions are good, but the impact of excessive comments can be overwhelming for students.
Before commenting in the margins, it is helpful to scan the entire lab quickly to grasp a sense of the whole piece. Then, ask yourself, “What single lesson do I want to convey to this student? and "How will my comments teach this lesson?” You may end up with multiple lessons to convey for the report. If you have focused on one or two lab writing learning objectives, this task becomes much easier.
Instructors and lab teaching assistants should also include summative comments at the end:
While marginal comments ask students to pay attention locally, end comments ask students to pay attention globally.
The following list provides a suggested format for summative comments:
Open with a salutation.
Highlight the paper’s strengths.
Highlight the paper’s areas for improvement.
Reference or highlight marginal comments.
Reinforce the writer-reader relationship.
Close with a positive comment or encouragement.
End comment example 1:
Nice job on X. Continue to work on Y. I've noted some specific suggestions above in margin comments.
End comment example 2:
Nice job on the lab data presentation and analysis. Continue to work on effective conclusion and objective statement in Intro. Here is a resource for conclusion writing: http://student.engineeringlabwriting.org/conclusions.
End comment example 3:
A major strength of your lab report is the lab data presentation and analysis. The engineering audience cares the data very well, so your readers will gain enough information from the report. However, your report's conclusion needs improvement. One of the reasons may be you did not have a strong objective statement in Intro (see the marginal comment in Intro). For the next time, you need to write a clear objective statement, which should help you writing a better conclusion. Here is a web resource for how to write conclusions: https://ecp.engineering.utoronto.ca/resources/online-handbook/components-of-documents/conclusions/ .
I look forward to reading your next lab report.
– Alexa, the lab TA
facilitate Peer Feedback
Many learning management systems allow for peer review of student writing. This has been demonstrated to be an effective means of support for student writing development. A search of ASEE's PEER database provides numerous examples of effective implementation of peer review.
Most learning management systems have tools to facilitate peer review of assignments:
Use campus resources
If your college or university has a writing center that can support your students, take advantage of it! Include the use of the writing center in your assignments and course structure.