Responding to & Evaluating Student Writing

Tomorrow, I head to Middlebury’s annual Faculty Writing Retreat where I’ll be leading a discussion on how we respond to student writing across the curriculum including evaluating the work. This is one of the trickiest and one of the most important topics to consider as we head back into our classrooms this fall. I will follow this post with one outlining how and when I respond to writing in my classes, and how I evaluate writing, but for now, I want to raise questions and see how the group responds.


When do we teachers respond to our students’ writing and when do we step back and resist giving feedback?

When are we not the best responders to student writing?

At what point in the process can our comments best aid the writer?

What kinds of comments help the writer develop skill and confidence? Do we address content over organization and style? How do we address mechanical errors? How do we find a balance between giving too little and too much feedback?

Do we have our students work through a drafting-revising process, with checkpoints along the way?
If we incorporate a drafting process, do we look at everything?

Do we expect students to turn in a rough draft? If so, are we the best responders to the draft or would it benefit the writer to work with peers or a tutor at this point?
(Some teachers do not read the papers until they are “finished”; others read and respond in depth to the rough draft but not to the final draft, which they read quickly to see how well the student executed the corrections/suggestions.)

If we do not respond, who does? How? Why? When?

Do we have students respond to one another’s work? When? Why? Do we provide them with rubrics? Questions to answer about the writing? Do we have the learning community itself establish rules of responding–the etiquette, the substance of the response? Do we let the writer lead the feedback sessions by asking the questions of the reader?

Do we have peer writing tutors assigned to our classes? How and when do they interact with the writing and the writers?

Do we have the writers themselves read their own work as readers, making comments about strengths and weaknesses during the process and at the end?


Do we use rubrics? If so, do we create them or do we have the class design them?

Do we show them examples of what we consider to be exemplary, satisfactory and deficient writing?

Do we have students self-evaluate their writing? With grades? Through an ongoing reflective process, conferences with us and class tutors, written self-assessments at the end of a writing project?

Do we give a content grade and a writing grade?

Do we grade the writing at all? If we do not grade written work, how do we factor this work into the course grade?

Do we use portfolios? eportfolios? In all courses with a strong writing component? Do we let students decide on the contents? How often do students hand in pieces of a portfolio? Do we respond to and evaluate each piece or to the whole? Do the portfolios have a narrative reflective component?

Links to helpful sites, including examples from Middlebury courses:

Middlebury’s Teaching Resources: Grading

From Harvard’s Bok Center: Grading Rubric

Amherst’s List of Words Faculty Say They Never Want to See Again

Dartmouth’s Detailed Website: Responding to Student Text, including Using Peer Groups and Model Responses (Dartmouth’s entire Writing Program Site is filled with terrific resources for faculty and students
U of Texas’s Site on Evaluating Student Writing
St. Olaf’s Web Portfolios
Kalamazoo College’s Portfolio SIte