Good feedback has a significant and immediate impact on students' ability to write persuasive academic essays. TFs, even those with a significant amount of teaching experience, may approach student writing with a battery of questions, doubts, and concerns. What kinds of comments should they make in the margins of a paper? Should they mark grammar mistakes? Should they edit? What should the purpose, length, and content of final comments be? Are the grades they're assigning fair and appropriate? Should they grade for effort or improvement? Should they grade ESL students differently? Are they spending the right amount of time on each paper?
HWP consultants address these and other questions in workshops for TFs on responding to student writing. Strategies are suggested in HWP Brief Guide Handouts (see below). The HWP offers two kinds of workshops:
- Course-specific workshops, in which HWP consultants attend a TF staff meeting or special training session to discuss commenting strategies and grading criteria using student writing from the course.
- College-wide workshops on responding to student writing for TFs from different courses.
The workshops aim to wed theory and practice. Rather than asking TFs to read a student paper and, with no guidance, to assign a grade to it, HWP consultants give workshop participants concrete strategies for commenting and grading (see the hand-out on responding to student writing). For example, TFs develop criteria for assessing writing by discussing the strengths of an excellent one-page response paper and practice a particular assessment technique that uses summaries of comments on actual papers.
The best comments on student papers take the writer seriously, conveying an understanding of what he or she was trying to do and how it might be done better. The workshops are designed to help TFs perform this crucial task, one of their most important as college teachers.