A feedback lexicon

Leave it to others to run marathons.

I, instead, participate in another endurance sport: the writing of miles and miles of comments on student writing.

In the past two weeks, in addition to having to submit the final report (with data) on a grant project I collaborated on, I wrote substantial comments on 40 essays and 28 research posters for two summer projects. There was so much to do in a short period of time that last Sunday morning I was sitting at my laptop at my dining room table at 7 a.m. to begin a day’s work.

My comments are typed, so I have a record of them, and for each project I copied and pasted them into one file to look at them for good language for future comments: Did I come up with a tactful yet straightforward way of saying, for example, “This has no evidence”?

Although I continuously referred to the rubric, I had no way of knowing, however, if there was any consistency to my comments as I was doing them. So I turned to Wordle to see if there were any patterns, and I hoped that what Wordle revealed in its illustration of my feedback lexicon would have some relationship to my intentions. Before I created the word map, therefore, I wrote down a list of terms I thought/hoped I used more frequently.

You can see the Wordle of my top 50 words as the illustration at the top.  Most of the words have to do with writing features or issues (e.g., paragraphs), although some of them have to do with the topics students were assigned to write on (one topic was information privacy and the other the college rankings system). I’m relieved to see that there is some relationship between my key words and what I recall of the rubric.

And there is also some relationship between the words I recall using most and the words I used most. Here’s the list of terms I wrote down before doing the Wordle, with some comments on their appearance in the graphic:

  • information (appears first on my list and is prominent in the graphic)
  • readings/sources (“articles,” “readings,” and “sources” appear in the graphic)
  • summary (strong in the graphic, too)
  • propose/proposal (ditto)
  • illustrate (not in the graphic, although “example” is)
  • some/more (not in the graphic)
  • understanding (not in the graphic)
  • synthesis (not in the graphic)
  • detail (in the graphic, quite small)
  • citation (not in the graphic)

So, one disappointment in my comments is that the word “synthesis” does not appear in the graphic of my top 50 words. One of the requirements of the summary prompt was that use of sources be synthesized. Ideally, I would have commented on whether or not a student did that in each essay. Perhaps I used synonyms (e.g., integrate or weave), but I may have missed a chance to emphasize this important terminology, which should become familiar to a college writer early on. Same for the word “citation” — I wish that it, or acknowledge or attribute or cite, appeared on the list of top 50. (It’s possible that source/readings/articles/use in some combination are how I addressed this in the comments, though, and all four of those appear in the graphic.)

And yet I do see some terms on the graphic that are really important in academic writing: argument, paragraph, structure, examples, reader, problems, topic, and even essay.

I did this as a reflective exercise. In future comment writing, I might try this midstream as a kind of quality control: am I hitting all the notes I want to hit? what could be dropped (my use of the tentative “might”)? what could be more emphasized (the word “idea”)?

3 thoughts on “A feedback lexicon

  1. That is so cool. I think I’ll have to try this myself! Now I’m very curious to know what my most-often used terms are, and how they differ from one teaching context to another. Tempted to do it and include the Wordle(s) in my annual-evaluation file…

  2. GREAT use of the tool! I think that you should share your use of the tool with the class to “illustrate” and give “example” of a method of self-discipline/monitoring. It might spark a nice discussion about other tools and methods they currently employ.

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