Undarmaa Maamuujav, School of Education

Responding to students’ papers that have serious rhetorical weaknesses and multitude of linguistic errors is a challenging task for instructors, but what is more trying is finding a systematic and effective method of response to actively engage students in their writing and editing processes. On average, writing instructors spend about 20-40 minutes to write comments and make corrections on a single paper (Sommers, 2013). For an instructor who teaches several classes and assigns multiple writing assignments, it is a tremendous amount of workload.

In addition, how instructors respond to students’ writing has a lasting impact on their writing development. Research shows that the quality of instructor’s feedback is a critical component of writing development (Beach & Friedrich, 2006). Given the time instructors devote to this single activity and its impact on students’ writing, it is crucial for instructors to ensure that their responses bring about a positive effect on how students write and how they feel about their writing.

Instructor’s response to students’ writing should be geared towards improving the quality of their writing (White & Wright, 2016). Instructors often need to prioritize certain issues over others and make important decisions about what aspects of writing they need to focus on. This means resisting a temptation to mark and comment on every error since such effort is overwhelming to both students and instructors. The following approaches can be helpful in promoting effective responses.

Glow and Grow

Students can be discouraged with negative comments. The “Glow and Grow” approach is to find strengths (glow) in students’ writing and to help them set goals for improving their drafts (grow). It is important for students to get feedback on what they are doing well, not just what they need improvement on. When the positive feedback is in a form of descriptive praise that is specific and that explains the positive comments, it can motivate students and improve their self-efficacy, which refers to a belief in their capacity and confidence in their ability. The “grow” part of this approach can focus on a few (2-3) important areas that students can work on.

Less is More

Excessive comments and feedback can be overwhelming to students. Throughout different stages of writing, teachers can focus on different aspects of writing. For example, teachers can focus on more global aspects of writing, without getting sidetracked by local errors, in the early drafts. Once the ideas are formed and developed in later drafts, teachers can address ways to refine the writing, zeroing in on linguistic and stylistic features. Addressing all global and local issues in one draft can be excessive and overwhelming.

A Letter to the Instructor

Encouraging students to write a letter to their instructor and submit the letter along with the written assignment can be helpful in promoting a dialogue between teachers and students. In the letter to the instructor, students can reflect on their writing process and ask instructors to comment on specific areas of the paper. This can help instructors to pay particular attention to areas students need help on.

Post-Writing Reflection

Similar to a letter to the instructor, students can write a reflection upon completing the written assignment. The reflection can be geared towards developing metacognitive skills and awareness. Metacognition, which refers to knowledge of one’s own cognitive/thought processes, is an important component in learning. This post-writing reflection that promotes metacognitive awareness can be the way teachers learn about the cognitive processes of individual writers.

Responding to student writing is a challenging and time-consuming endeavor for many instructors. However, the aforementioned approaches can help maximize both efficacy and efficiency in instructor’s response practice.


Beach, R., & Friedrich, T. (2006). Response to Writing. In C.A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 67-80). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Sommers, N. (2013). Responding to student writers. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

White, E. M., & Wright, C. A. (2016). Assigning, responding, and evaluating: A writing teacher’s guide. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Matthew Mahavongtrakul edited this post on March 6th, 2020.