Essay Grading: When To Scale Back Comments?

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I'm a VAP currently teaching a writing intensive English service course (I taught the same course in the Fall). I provide a lot of feedback on papers, but there are always students who are clearly content to do just enough to pass and aren't interested in being pushed to produce A-level work, especially the students majoring in non-Humanities fields. I even grade papers online, so that students don't have to decipher my handwriting and instead receive clean, clear feedback.

Here's my question, since I've graded the first few essays and don't want to waste as much time  this semester with non-caring, zombiefied, sighing, eye-rolling students: is it okay to not provide much feedback on papers for students who clearly don't care or are content with producing mediocre work, especially since I've already made my expectations clear in the first few essays through thoroughly written comments? I'm trying to be more efficient with my time and am tired of wasting energy on students who obviously don't care to push themselves--energy I could use elsewhere, such as with students who do care and toward my own work (because I'm a VAP, I need to "write my way" into contention for a t-t position). Yet, I always feel guilty when I consider commenting less on papers written by students who don't care.



I've written several handouts offering writing tips and posted the handouts to Blackboard; the handouts were posted before the first essay. The handouts thoroughly cover thesis statements, organization, analysis vs. summary, etc., so I could always point the non-caring students to the handouts in my "comments" to CYA.

By the third essay, I would just write "See previous papers for feedback, ditto here."

Remember though, I am not a prof.

If you give feedback to some students, I think you need to give feedback to all. I say this mainly as a cover-your-ass strategy. Should a zombie-student contest a grade, it's best to have been consistent on this.

Here's what I do in all my writing intensive classes, mfaer:  I start the semester with a couple of very short paper assignments with directed writing prompts.  I grade the bejeezus out of them, which doesn't take too long, since . . . they're very short!  One important thing I add to the marginal comments is a list of writing and analysis skills that they definitely need to work on.  To create those lists, I have a very long "menu" of writing problems that show up on most papers and I just select from that list.  I divide the list into "easy stuff" and "more challenging stuff."  This is quick and easy for them to understand.  But here's how it builds in accountability:

For each subsequent paper, they must carefully read my feedback and review the list of problems and fix them.  If they completely ignore the feedback, they get a significant grade penalty (sometimes a full grade).  I obviously keep copies of every student's list, so I have that on hand to review.  This technique has worked pretty well both to streamline my grading process and to ensure that even the students who are determined not to learn from my brilliant instruction will have to pay at least a little bit of attention if they want a grade above a "C" on their subsequent papers.

One semester when I was particularly overcommitted I created a grid rubric (similar to something like this: and highlighted the appropriate square when I was grading. I then wrote 1-2 sentence summary comments on the bottom, the overall grade, and stapled that to the paper. In class when I was handing them back, I told them that if they wanted more detailed feedback or some tips on how to improve for the next paper, they were encouraged to see me in office hours. One student took me up on it all semester, and no one complained during class, on midsemester evals, or in final evals. It was pretty painless for all of us. Oddly, I think students view this kind of feedback as more transparent and "objective," and they're less apt to take it personally than when I write individual comments.

For a writing intensive class, where the subject itself is writing, you would probably want to do something along the lines of what tuxedo_cat suggested, but if you have a big courseload or are teaching a non-writing subject that still involves writing, the rubric can be a huge time saver.


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