An Activity to Put a Stop to “Students Don’t Read My Comments on their Papers”

As a composition instructor, one of the complaints I hear most often among colleagues (and I’ve definitely said this myself) goes something like this: “Students don’t read my comments on their papers.” It feels like such a waste of time when this happens–and that is frustrating–but it also means, in my view, that we are doing something wrong as instructors. If students don’t understand the value of feedback, don’t understand how learning happens when we implement feedback, then we’re not doing our jobs. 

In my composition class at NJCU this semester, especially because I am teaching online and there is so little human interaction, I’m trying a new method to tackle this problem. Now, when my students submit a writing assignment, I send them a survey (a Google form) that they must complete before I give them their grades (and feedback on the final drafts). I figure if the thing students want to see most is the grade–so much so that I have watched them flip to the back page, read the grade, then put the paper in their backpacks without glancing at the comments–then I have to somehow slow this process down. 

To emphasize that writing is a process, and to focus students’ attention more on the process and less on the result, the form begins with a simple checklist of every step they completed before turning in the final draft. Students are asked to check all parts of the process that they completed before the deadline, including items such as, “Carefully read instructor’s feedback to understand each suggestion/edit/addition,” “Replied to a peer’s post on the Blackboard discussion board,” and “Revised my cover letter for a public audience.”

Then, the form asks students some simple questions about their process and their final product. Each question is followed by a reminder that they can, right now, at this point in filling out the form, edit their final product to make it better before I grade it. The questions include:

  • What feedback, if any, did you incorporate into your revisions ? (To answer this question, you might need to open the email exchange we had or your Google Doc to jog your memory.)
  • What did you learn about your own writing in this process?
  • Is your HASTAC blog post a polished, finished post, representing your best writing (at this time)?
  • Would someone who knows nothing about our class understand the context for your post? (You may need to visit your post on the HASTAC Group to jog your memory–if your answer is “no,” you can log in now to revise it.)
  • Does your HASTAC post meet all the requirements of the assignment? (Double-check the handout on Blackboard; if your answer is “no” you can log into HASTAC and edit the post to meet the requirements.)
  • What grade do you think you earned on the final product, your HASTAC post, of this assignment?

All these questions are required, and I don’t grade students’ posts until they complete the form. This self-evaluation is a form of ungrading, or trying to emphasize the learning process over the grade itself. Ultimately, it helps students troubleshoot any issues or missing parts on their own before I start grading and pointing these out, and it helps me grade students’ blog posts as well. This does slow down the grading process somewhat but based on the improved quality of my students’ work, I think this extra step is worth it.