Composition studies has a rich tradition of research that aims to better understand the types of comments that instructors write on their students’ papers. But what—if anything—do students do with those comments? WRD Professor Darsie Bowden aims to find out.
Since January 2014, Bowden has been interviewing students in first-year writing classes at DePaul to learn more about how they respond to their instructors’ feedback. Her interviews are divided into two parts: she meets with students after they have received feedback on a paper and again after they turn in their final drafts. Bowden’s goal is to find out what students think of the instructor feedback they received and what factors influence whether or not they address that feedback in their revisions.
Bowden explains that her interest in this research emerged from her experiences teaching classes for new writing teachers, such as the Teaching Apprenticeship Program for MA in WRD students. A crucial component of the classes she teaches is how to comment on student papers. However, for all the studies done on instructors’ approaches to commenting, she noticed a gap in the research when it came to students’ perceptions and responses to these comments. “Is this [commenting] really even useful in the development of student learning?” she began to ask. “How do we know?”
Through her interviews with students, Bowden has begun to formulate some answers to these questions (though she warns that the findings are still preliminary). So far, Bowden’s research suggests the following:
- Perhaps contrary to popular opinion, students give a great deal of thought to instructor comments, even when they opt not to make the suggested revisions.
- Grading early drafts of papers can undercut the impact of comments. “If the paper has been graded and if they’re happy with their grade, students don’t bother to look at the comments,” Bowden explains. “If it is graded and they’re unhappy with their grade, they might look at the comments—but not necessarily.”
By the end of winter quarter, Bowden will have interviewed 40 students. In addition to an article she is planning to submit to College Composition and Communication on her findings, she plans to share her research in a workshop with faculty members here at DePaul. She feels particularly hopeful about the value of her findings for instructors in other disciplines. Bowden points out that many instructors outside the field of WRD assign writing for their courses and devote a lot of time to commenting on this writing, but don’t necessarily have the background and training that WRD or English departments typically provide.
“There seems to be a hunger from faculty in other departments to know if students are reading their comments—and what they think,” says Bowden. Her new research aims to answer those questions, and ultimately to help instructors more effectively respond to student writing.