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Best Practice: Commenting on Reflective Writing

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As you evaluate and comment on students' reflective writing, remember that your goals are to encourage your students to write more, examine their own writing and learning, and feel comfortable when sharing their thoughts and opinions. One badly worded comment can stifle a student's desire to continue writing and sharing.

Make an effort to provide meaningful comments regularly. Many students appreciate an audience. They may apply themselves more when they know you are reading and commenting on their ideas. Offer praise, ask questions, and focus on content without dissecting the mechanics of the writing. Try to view these types of writing as unfinished products—reference points for how your students are progressing in their grasp of the course material.

As you provide feedback, keep in mind the following guidelines.

  • Focus on the content and ideas. In the beginning, don't spend too much time on grammar and punctuation. If you intend to comment on or grade the mechanics, alert students ahead of time.
  • Write in complete sentences and include details. The more specific and concrete your comments are, the more helpful they’ll be to student writers.
  • Always provide positive comments. When students know you appreciate their work, they will be more receptive to your comments about the areas needing further work. Make comments that let students know that you are a willing audience who looks forward to their writing.
  • Avoid overwhelming a student with too many comments. Comment primarily on patterns that you see in a piece of work that represent strengths and weaknesses. Point out each once so as not to "over mark" a piece of work.
  • Focus on the big idea. Help each student refine the "main point" and how to support it.
  • Help students learn from their writing. Focus on what you want students to address in future work.
  • Whenever possible, provide feedback to the class as a whole. Identify what most everyone did well and what they can continue to work on. This is an excellent opportunity to use the discussion board and post about a writing problem. Students can offer solutions and give feedback.

Build opportunities for revision into any kind of graded reflective writing assignment so that students can learn from your comments and refine their work. The Blackboard Learn journals, blogs, and wikis tools offer the ability for students to respond to your comments. This encourages a dialogue, which allows students to become active participants in the writing process. Students take on more responsibility as they revise, defend, and rethink. Ultimately, reflecting on their writing, reading comments, and communicating about those comments contribute to a better understanding of the course material and writing itself.

If you find that you are repeating yourself when providing feedback, copy and paste those comments from one student to another. Then, address the issue with the entire class.

Peer Comments

Peer comments provide encouragement, aid in reflection, and are integral to developing the interpersonal relationships that promote collective learning. Students need to know that instructor and peer comments are for them to use to assess their own writing and find ways to improve it. Help students understand that the process is continuous.

When commenting on another's writing, students are increasing their time and effort with the subject. Their understanding improves and they carefully evaluate what they write, knowing it is available to an audience. Students' writing skills improve as they comment on each other's writing, especially as they suggest how others can improve their ideas and writing.