Whenever we survey students they will say something either good or bad about feedback. They’re rarely neutral. As in any educational setting, there are two sorts of feedback: formative and summative.
It’s the formative feedback I’m more concerned with here. This is the ongoing, week on week, feedback that helps to develop our writers. It’s particularly important as part of the creative writing workshop.However:
A word about summative feedback
There is sometimes a perception that any marking of creative writing must be pretty subjective. No, actually, it isn’t. We mark to a set of strict criteria, awarding a grade for each of Task, Expression, Technical Skills, Writerly Reading and Research, Reflection, Style, Writing Skills and Presentation. There are strict definition for each and strict criteria for each level. The overall mark is an average of these. We often standardise before we mark and moderate internally after we mark and then send work to an external examiner. We’re remarkably close as we award marks.
My method of formative marking
As I receive weekly assignments – about 1000 words long – I’ll annotate them remarking on everything I pick up. This can be anything from how I react as a reader, identifying where the writer is telling instead of showing to finding small typos, spelling and punctuation mistakes. I keep going through it until I’ve made at least ten annotations.
Then I make my “summative” comment on this. I identify what is working well. After all, we want more of the same. I also pinpoint what is working least well. I give some advice about what might be done next and try to find the action which will be the most effective. Here I’m trying not to overwhelm the writer with too much information. I have, after all, annotated the text fully – though even here I’d issue a caution: I can’t guarantee I’ve noticed absolutely everything. Nevertheless, the writers are getting a lot of feedback from me.
Does this work?
I think it does. Understandably, perhaps, in a critique group, or amongst university students who are keen to graduate and keen to become writers. Interestingly, when I employed a similar method to writing reports for thirteen year high-school students learning French and German I was astonished and pleased to see that the following year they had improved in precisely the areas I’d pinpointed – presumably they’d take my advice. This wasn’t the top set but the middle one.
That is extremely rewarding and I think it’s for this reason that I like marking. My colleagues think I’m mad. I admit, anyway, that it can become a little pressured sometimes. Yet this continuous process is what helps to produce some very competent graduate writers. One of the reasons I love my day job.