Whenever I made notes or comments on this expos paper, I tried to be as specific as possible on what I mean or am questioning. What I saw in my students during tutoring was that sometimes, they would ignore comments made by their teachers because the comments were ambiguous; students were not sure what the teachers were referring to and did not go up to them to ask. Thus, I did my best to provide detailed and easily “accessible” notes for students to make full use of and make improvements on the next paper. For instance, when I found awkward sentence arrangements in the paper, I pointed that out, which was in the first paragraph (the first couple sentences sounded too “disconnected”). I then showed an example as a suggestion on how to “fix” it so that the student can see why his original sentence structures had been marked awkward. Some things may seem basic to us, but to the students, those things may not always be obvious. For example, I showed where to put semi-colons and why they are necessary in the student’s certain sentences (e.g., to fix run-on sentences).
In addition, I tried my best to give the “why’s” of my comments. Say I write all these comments, but the student honestly does not see the reason behind them or see them as pointless: would that really encourage the student to “accept” those comments and work on them for the next paper? Probably not. In the paper, I saw that the student did not really use transitional phrases effectively. I commented on the aspect of using transitions and explained that using them will help make the sentences and paragraphs flow better. As a result, on a bigger level, that would make the entire essay sound more coherent and easy to follow. Furthermore, I noticed that in some parts, the student generalized too much or lacked in careful thinking. In one part, he said that Bernie Goetz’s actions were solely based on the environment and not on personal fulfillment. I asked if personal fulfillment truly had nothing to do with Goetz’s actions. There is no law that states that one must take one exact position and reject the other in writing. I wanted the student to know that it is okay to hold contradicting beliefs and reflect that in the paper because that can show personal growth as a writer. Overall, I wanted to avoid the “error hunting” that Curzan mentions in her writing. Therefore, instead of bluntly crossing out the errors that the student had made, I circled these parts and made suggestions next to them. I wanted to send the student the message that “What you did is not wrong, per se, but here is a better way to do it for the next paper.” In the end, I gave this paper a C+ because he had some great ideas, but the thesis felt incomplete, paragraphs lacked solid structures, and there were quite a lot of mechanical and citation errors (these characteristics mostly fall in the C/C+ range in the grading criteria).
Teachers always tell students vagueness is not conducive to good writing. Well, guess what? It’s the same thing for comments. As simple as it sounds, teachers’ comments should not be vague or confusing for students to understand. Comments like “Explain more in this part” or “Expand more here” by themselves do not mean anything and can leave students feeling clueless. Better comments would be more clear, detailed, and make students think deeper or even question their original position. Specifics and details are always helpful because the teacher is not next to us when I tutor and we cannot ask the teacher what he or she means in the comment. Identifying which type of error students made (e.g., subject-verb agreement) helps as well because students can go back in the handbook themselves and ask me for help if they still do not get it.