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Feedback to Students on their Writing: Eight Examples

February 10, 2013

I’ve been trying to give meaningful feedback to students that doesn’t take me forever. The focus of this assignment and the next one was to continue drafting a “mechanistic” explanation for box theatre. Here are some examples of what students got back from me.

Example #1

I see strong examples in your writing of each of the following:

  • Identifying objects and the roles they play
  • Articulating a mechanistic story
  • Problematizing what is not yet understood.

I’ve underlined and marked areas that I see you doing these things.

A question I’m wondering about your particular idea is this: What are you imagining it looking like when light “fragments”? That word stood out to me, but I’m not really sure what you wanted me to be envisioning when I was reading it. It sounds like a really interesting idea that I would need to know more about.

Example #2

It looks like it was really useful for you to ‘warm up’ into your writing by first organizing your thoughts about what you observed in detail.  It looks like this then got you to a place where you could start proposing an explanation, which was ultimate goal of the assignment. This is common in writing: to start writing and let it carry you.

I’ve indicated the part of you writing that I think represent the most mechanistic part of your story. One thing that makes it very mechanistic is the use very tangible ideas when describing what objects and light might do: suck, act like a sponge, attract, absorb, project, filter, twist, etc. That really helps to begin to tell the story of what you think light is doing and encountering along the way!

One idea I would love to know more about is the “filtering and twisting” idea. What does it look like when the light “twists upside down”, what would that process look like in a diagram?”

Example #3

In most of the assignment, what I see you doing is stating some possible analogies–maybe the box is like an eye or like a camera. Making connections across situations is a really important thing to be doing in science. However, in this assignment, one of the challenges was to start crafting a specific kind of explanation called a “mechanistic story”.

One place where I think you begin to write a mechanistic story is when you write, “We needed to use white paper in the box to have a reflective surface”. In doing so you point the reader to an object you think is an important and begin to say why it’s needed in terms of some property you think it is.  You can think of this as you having introduced “one character in the story”. For the next assignment, I look forward to being introduced to all of the other characters and what you think they are doing in to result in the image getting upside down in the box.

Example #4

It looks like you were able to get down some of your thinking. This kind of writing I think is a great example of the kind of writing that should be in your class notebook. Reflections on discussion, questions that arise, analogies to other situations, a list of factors you think are important, things you are curious about, a sketch to show some connection you are making, etc.

Part of what we are trying to accomplish is writing a mechanistic explanation. We spent sometime in class talking about what this means (when you weren’t here), so you’ll have to get caught up from a classmate.

Example #5

The sequence of diagrams you created are carefully constructed and thoughtful in terms of conveying your thoughts and ideas. The diagrams help convey so much information, that you didn’t even need to write much to get your point across. Many others in class were struck by the clarity of your ideas and saw it was compelling.

A question I have been wondering about your idea is this one: “How does the light know to aim right for the hole?” You know what I mean? Like, it could have gone anywhere, how did it end up going to exact right way to get in the box.

Example #6

I’ve underlined parts that I think are places where you are focusing on building a mechanistic story. I see you as saying,

  •  The hole simply lets light in (the way a pupil does).
  • The paper is simply a place to “catch” the image, which is aided by it being white.
  • There is a path that images take from object to inside of the box through the hole.

This seems like a decent outline for a story. Based on our conversation, I think, by now, you have more details to make the story better developed. Can’t wait.

Example #7

 I think your idea (at the time you wrote this) was:

 Light being all around us outside creates shadows. Some of those shadows can escape into the box through the hole we poked. The paper inside the box is just a screen where the shadows can be cast for us to see.

 What I’ve tried to do is distill your idea down to the basics as I understood your idea. By now, however, I know your ideas have changed and look forward to seeing your next draft–both what that your new mechanism is and how you will help me to understand the details.

Example #8

I see in this writing that you were still groping around for ideas–reflecting on what you predicted, what you observed, and what ideas you had heard in class. It seems like part of what you did was look at my list of suggested things to think about, and jot down some of your ideas about each one.

It didn’t seem at the end of day, at least in this writing, to get you to a place where you were able to start crafting a mechanistic explanation–a story to explain how and why we saw an upside down image. That was probably an OK place to be for the first assignment–still mulling things over. I really look forward to seeing how your ideas will have developed for the next assignment, where you are definitely expected to focus on developing a explanation.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. suevanhattum permalink
    February 10, 2013 11:16 pm

    Wow! And how many students got that deep feedback?!

    • February 10, 2013 11:43 pm

      I have twenty students in that class. I think it’s manageable, but it gets hard if its much more than that.

  2. February 11, 2013 3:07 pm

    I think what particularly strikes me about these comments is that they model the type of analysis and thinking we’d like students to do, using language that’s conducive to productive discourse (along the lines of “what it sounds like you’re saying is” and “I wonder whether”) rather than just showing the evaluative results of said analysis. I think aiming for this type of feedback would remind me, as the teacher, that the purpose of grading is to give me a better window into what students are thinking, and not to simply torture me and waste my time 🙂 Out of curiosity, how long was the original assignment, and how long did you spend on the feedback for each?

    • February 12, 2013 2:43 pm

      Not sure exactly how much time it takes, but I know in past it has taken too much time. For this assignment, they’ve written 1-3 pages plus a drawing. It’s their first “real” writing assignment. I read ’em over, underlining or circling a few things, take general notes for myself, and then go back the next day to write individual feedback. Reading their work varies, but I probably only spend < 5 minutes to write my feedback.

  3. christopher permalink
    January 29, 2017 3:32 pm

    very lengthy feedback

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