Monday, February 28, 2011

Giving Helpful Feedback

The other day, I asked my tween students to trade first drafts and write comments to each other. Their feedback, they soon learned, was in first-draft form as well. Most of them wrote lists at the bottom of the page, such as "Needs details; Show, don't tell; verb tenses changed; unclear plot...." Some added spelling corrections within the text, or smiling faces or stars in the margins. A couple wrote "Great verbs" or "Great descriptions!" I asked all of these novice editors, "Now that you are looking at the comments you received, how many of you feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start revising?" Most of the hands rose. "Now," I continued, "look at the sample that I edited." I passed the edited copy around. "What's different?"

"You asked questions in the margins," one student pointed out.

"Yeah, you wrote comments right next to the lines that need work," added another.

"You're right," I replied. "Now trade back with your editing partner and do the same."

After they had finished responding directly to the words on the page, in specific terms or questions, rather than in vague generalities as advice, I asked them how many thought they could revise more easily now. They all did.

The revisions showed, rather than told, about the most productive way to give feedback. I hope that everyone learned that we help each other most when we provide details in editing, just as we advise our fellow writers to add details to their writing!