The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Center Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Handouts

Responding to Writing: Contexts and Strategies

Response to student writing is a time-intensive activity. Consider the following scenarios.

Scenario 1:
8-10 page papers x 45 minutes for a careful reading and detailed response.
30 students—22.5 hours of response time (FT=0.56 weeks; 1/4FT=2.25 weeks)
60 students—45 hours of response time (FT=1.12 weeks; 1/4FT=4.5 weeks)
90 students--67.5 hours of response time (FT=1.68 weeks; 1/4FT=6.75 weeks)
120 students—90 hours (FT=2.25 weeks; 1/4FT=9 weeks)

Scenario 2:
1-page paper x 4 minutes for a quick read and simple evaluation
30 students—2 hours of response time (FT=0.05 weeks; 1/4FT= 0.2 weeks)
60 students—4 hours of response time (FT=0.1weeks; 1/4FT= 0. 4 weeks)
90 students—6 hours (FT=0.15 weeks; 1/4FT=0.6weeks)
120 students—8 hours (FT=0.2 weeks; 1/4FT=0.8weeks)

How you relate the trade-offs among length of paper, number of students, and type of response will probably be important in determining the success of your writing assignments. Giving assignments that take more time than you have will usually lead either to less than ideal response or to overwork. One key for making these decisions is to align your goals, the tasks, and the responses.

Here are a few examples.
Example 1: In lab classes and some other classes there may be a repeated writing task, where one of the goals is to teach students certain genres of writing as well as certain ways of thinking and presenting that thinking (e.g., ways of using evidence). For such classes, it may be useful to have a rolling focus of response (a specific section, for example) for each assignment. Thus, with a laboratory report, the first week might focus on writing the methodology section, the next on presenting results, the next on tables and graphs, and so on. Response then could focus on that section, with the rest of the paper perhaps simply evaluated with a primary trait scale (one that describes specific features for the task and rates them).

Example 2: Many instructors use informal in-class writing for a specific set of goals: encouraging attendance, motivating students to keep up with readings, promoting classroom discussion, making students active participants in the lessons, and monitoring students’ understanding of material to situate teaching. With these goals, the key is to making the writing work in the classroom and making sure the students see the value of the writing. Students might get minimal evaluations (check or check minus). These kinds of activities, however, take planning and generally need to be done routinely to be effective.

Example 3: Sometimes you may want students to write a longer paper based on library resources and/or some other type of data (observations, interviews, etc.). The goals of these activities may be to help students develop their written arguments, their style of writing, their clarity, their understanding of certain material, and their skills at certain types of inquiry. Response to students writing is likely to be effective only if students take it up and use it in a subsequent task (either another draft of the paper or some type of reworking of it, such as shifting from a research paper for the instructor to a web site for the public).

There are a number of strategies for making the best use of resources:

Peer or self-response sheets that focus student attention on your key concerns may be an efficient form of response (and one that begins to shift evaluation from you to the students, a key goal). Class discussions about the paper can support students’ understanding of the task and their development of ideas. Oral reports before the paper is due may allow for feedback to students.

In-progress reports may allow you to confirm or redirect students as they work through the process.

A writer’s memo about the paper from the student may assist you in reading and responding to students. If you do choose to make a rich response to first drafts and require second drafts, you may ask students to annotate your response, explaining how and why they used it (or why they didn’t use it) in their revisions.