4 Ways to Give Instant Feedback on Writing
Hack your teaching to help your students learn better and faster
The answer jarred me. “You’re the teacher, that’s your job” was its brief message.
I had clicked on a question in Quora where a teacher asked for ideas on how to provide instant feedback to students on their essay writing.
The question is an obvious one. As a biochemist, I see our marking as the ‘rate-limiting step’ in student learning writing skills. We can only mark so many pieces of writing in a set time, and students need feedback in order to improve.
Hoping to find a new online tool or some tips, I had clicked on the question. There was only one answer. The harsh one.
“Do your job.”
It irritated me. From the question, it did not appear the teacher was trying to reduce their workload. They simply wanted some ideas for getting feedback to students faster.
And I don’t like responses that are along the lines of “you can’t”.
So I reflected on my teaching and some of the activities I give my students. And I brainstormed some more. Here’s what I came up with; four ways to give students instant feedback on their writing:
1. Order an essay
You can provide a number of paragraphs (introductions, body paragraphs and conclusion) and have them read and put them in the correct order. This exercise teaches the student how to recognise the different parts of an essay. It is also really useful for them to see examples of quality work (as often they only see their own writing).
2. Order the sentences comprising paragraphs
You can also provide them with sample sentences that need to be placed in the correct order. Placing these in the correct order, for example, point, evidence, explanation and link, teaches them to recognise a logical structure.
3. Mark sample essays
Provide sample essays for students to mark. These should range from “model” essays to those with recognisable problems. Students can first create an essay plan themselves, discuss an ideal structure in a group, and then as a group troubleshoot the sample ones and briefly present to the class what was good or could be improved about the sample essay they discussed. This assists students by providing examples of good writing. They benefit from peer learning and it helps them develop critical thinking.
4. Peer feedback
Depending on the situation, you may be able to have students write an essay and provide peer feedback. This activity should be well scaffolded so that students have a rubric and are taught to give constructive feedback including highlighting what is done well.
Students may also do this activity when writing an reviewing a simple paragraph, learning how to construct an introduction, main body paragraph or conclusion.
These activities are really useful for providing fast feedback that will help students learn to write. Simply having them write essays that you mark in entirety every time is timeconsuming for you as the teacher, and often is repeatedly “hit and miss” for the student. Fast feedback methods aren't just more efficient, they can be more effective when learning forms of writing.
You can still “do your job” and not be the rate-limiting step in student learning.