Essay Feedback Hack (And the best thing I did this year)

Okay writing teachers, raise your hand if you’ve ever been in this scenario: you hand back essays, all with tons of feedback in the margin and a rubric stapled to the back.  Kids take the precious writing from your hand, unceremoniously flip to the rubric, look at their grade and either smile widely or give you the evil eye.  Then they proceed to either crumple it up or slip it into their backpack, feedback completely ignored.

I’m raising both of my hands right now.  I can’t be the only one who has been in this situation, right?

Well, this year, I just couldn’t take it anymore.  After students had labored over their best writing yet–the argumentative essay–and I spent hours upon hours grading them and giving meticulous feedback, I couldn’t bear to see the kids ignore it and move on.

I put my foot down.  And came up with a new way to return work.

Students turned the final draft of their essays in on Google Classroom, but rather than do a digital rubric that I put right on their essay, I completed the rubrics on paper, which turned out to be an excellent (and accidental, mostly fueled by laziness) choice.  When I finished grading, my students were in the middle of a sort of transition period; we were finishing A Streetcar Named Desire and beginning short stories, plus Friday was independent reading day. So, as far as having time for what I’m about to explain, it was perfect.  Kids were working on their own for a day or two, which allowed me to meet with each one of them for a few minutes.

The steps I followed:

  • I returned the essays on Classroom with my feedback, but did not give students their rubric.
  • I told them to read their essay and my comments, and at the bottom (or as comments), come up with THREE things to talk about. These three things could be questions, comments, observations, or whatever they wanted to discuss.
  • I told them we would not discuss until the next day and that they would get their grades after our discussion.
  • Then, after class got started for the next couple days, I would call kids up one at a time.  
  • When they sat down, I’d say, “Okay, what do you want to talk about?  What did you notice?” and the kids would go through their comments, questions, and observations.
  • I would then ask them how they thought they did and/or what they could have done better.
  • Finally, I gave them the rubric and discussed why they received that grade, and how they could complete a redo if they were interested.
The Results:
  • The students actually read the feedback I gave them! (It was literally amazing)
  • No one was surprised by their grade.  As a matter of fact, I’d say more of them were surprised that their grade was a bit higher than they would have expected based on what they observed.
  • Almost everyone said something along the lines of “I can’t believe I did that–we specifically learned not to do that”, or “I think I was just careless”, or “wow, I can’t believe I turned this in.”  You get the idea.  
  • Many students asked legitimate questions about how to improve their writing: how to improve specific sentences, how to integrate their quotes, or how to dig a little deeper in their analysis.
This is an easy fix and you can implement it for almost any assignment.  The only real difficulty is scheduling conferences with every student.  It worked out that my days were already designed to be independent, so I didn’t have to contrive a situation to make it work.  
My only regret is that I waited until the last essay of the year to come up with this.  Next year I want to add an element of taking the feedback and using it in the future. Not sure what that will look like yet.
I’d love to hear how you get students to pay attention to feedback.
Happy summer, y’all!

7 thoughts on “Essay Feedback Hack (And the best thing I did this year)

  1. This is so awesome! I added your post here: It could have gone in other tabs, too, but I'll be able to find it myself here! ;D I'm going to try this, but not give them a “final” grade. I'll take their assessment of it after all the feedback review. I also like adding a video by using Screencastify or Explain Everything to give the feedback. Thank you so much for sharing!


  2. I have tried Kaizena in the past, but after they changed it, I found it a bit more cumbersome so I didn't use it this year. I may play with it this summer and try again next year. Thanks for stopping by!


  3. 1. Thank you for sharing my work on Twitter and on this livebinder
    2. I had no idea this livebinder existed and I'm so excited to have it as a resource now! Thank you!
    3. Why have I never thought to use screencastify for feedback?!?! I love it, it's easy to use, and kids enjoy that kind of feedback. Thank you for the idea! 🙂


  4. Pingback: Fall Semester Wins | louden clear

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