Analysis of my Evaluative Style



In order to reflect upon how helpful my grading technique was, I felt it was mot helpful to go directly to the horses’ mouths.  I recently asked my students for “feedback on my feedback” on a paper they just completed as part of their humanities unit.  The assignment was to conduct an original interpretation of a text.  Their choices included films such as David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, short fiction such as William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” songs such as Pink Floyd’s “Time,” and Notorious BIG’s “Beef,” or paintings such as Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.”  In offering a variety of mostly popular texts, I aimed to allow the students the comfort of conducting an original analyses on texts they had most likely interpreted informally in the past as viewers, readers, and listeners.



Because my course has a strong metacognitive focus, students are constantly asked to reflect on their own thinking and writing processes.  About every month, I also ask for their feedback on specific course activities, strategies, assignments, and units.  Students are aware that I actively listen to their feedback and often change my pedagogy depending on their expressed needs.  My aim here is not only to improve the course, but to show my students that their growth is the most important course goal. 

The following feedback form represents what the students were given to fill out.  I asked students to not identify themselves, and to print the document once they were finished so that I could not “compare handwriting.”  Blind results are more reliable than identifiable results.  The numbers in the form below reflect the average number out of 20 students.  “S1,” “S2,” “S3” and “S4” represent the comments of four students selected at random from the larger stack of surveys.




Grading & Feedback on Papers


Average Count

Average Score


+  What’s positive about it?

  How can it be better?

Global comments[1]



[S1] It helps me to organize better, and this is where I have the most trouble in my writing

[S4] A lot of it ended with “Go more in depth.” And that was about it


[S2] Could be more constructive on how I need to improve.

Local comments[2]




[S2] These comments were helpful and informative


[S1] …. I like they way you write good and bad things, or else I would cry my eyes out.  :  )

[S2] Could be a little more specific.

Surface comments[3]




[S3] I like these because I generally don’t know that I’m doing this wrong so it helps


[S1] Once again, you do a good job of letting me know where im going wrong and when im doing good…thanks

[S3] Sometimes there were just question marks and they could be specific because it makes sense to me


Could explain why it is wrong.




Specific Features of Comments


Average Score

+  What’s positive about it?

  How can it be better?

Comments using track changes (as opposed to on paper)


[S1] It took me a while to get used to this, but it was actually very helpful and kinda cool lookin


Additional feedback on a rubric



[S3] The highlighting on the rubric compares what I was supposed to do and what I actually did

[S1] Its always nice to have more help, but the tips on the rubric are kind of jumbled.  It’s a little messy.  If you could find another way to put the notes on the rubric it would be helpful.

Additional feedback in the “comments” section of the rubric


[S3] Helps because it restates what was on the paper in a new way so that its condensed and easy to understand


[S1] I like this a lot.  These are always helpful!

[S4] Maybe put them with their place in the rubric so it is easier to see our mistakes


Tone and Usefulness of Commentary




Average Score


+  What’s positive about it?

  How can it be better?

Out of the total number of comments I made (within only the paper, not the rubric), how many were positive or encouraging about a decision you made or some aspect of the text?



[S3] “Passive voice indeed aided your tone!”


[S4] Encouragement is always appreciated


[S2] It is nice to know that I am doing something right and to be acknowledged for it because most times when I am writing the paper I am just guessing at what I should be doing.


[S1] This is nice to just see things that are good about your paper, and not only  see things that need to be fixed

[S3] More positive ones please!


[S4] Most said “Good!” or “Great!” but not what made it great.


[S2] It would be nice to know why  I did something right, instead of just being told that I did it right.

Out of the total number of comments I made (within only the paper, not the rubric), how many were “negative” or are about something that almost felt like a put-down?[4] 



[S4] They let me know exactly what my weaknesses were and how to fix them


[S2] Re: the comment, “OK, interesting” This comment left me wondering if it was a good or bad thing and if it was stupid to have even mentioned the idea in my paper.  It’s not necessarily that it is a put-down, I just don’t know what you are trying to say and I could take it for something bad.


[S1] I like the comments you make, I don’t take things personal so I think they are all good comments.  I just know that it will help me in the long run

[S2] Just specify what you meant by interesting.  Was it good or bad and should I have left it out of said more.  Maybe instead of saying “Ok, interesting”, you could say “Interesting point, good idea, elaborate a little more”, or something like that.

Out of the total number of comments I made (within only the paper, not the rubric), how many comments represent “constructive criticism”?[5]



[S3] Helps me understand what I am doing wrong and makes me able to recognize the problem so I can catch it myself in the future.


[S1] I like this as well.  In one part you said “is this closer to your thesis statement?  For a 4 page paper, however, it must not come this late in the game.”  And that was a helpful hint to let me know that in other papers, I need to

[S4] But some did not help as much as I had hoped


[S2] I like these comments the best, so maybe more of them.

Focusing now only on my longer commentary at the end of the rubric, what would you say its overall purpose was?[6]





What would you say the tone of my comments were overall?  If you had to invent a metaphor for who I am in your comments, what would it be? [7]



[S3] The comments were very helpful and I always like they way that they were worded because while you were pointing out things that I did wrong and need to improve on it was done in a nice manner so that I saw it as constructive criticism. 


[S4] My Mother is a physical therapist and has to do evaluations not only on her patients but on the employees working for her. She always said the way to grade someone was put something positive, something that need improvement, and something positive again. I can see that structure unfolding there too, well done.


[S2] Overall the comments were fairly positive.  The tone of the comments are personable, kind of like I am talking to you and you are explaining it to me.  Some of the comments are like you are a reader of the paper and some are as a teacher of the paper.


[S1] Your comments are fine.  They are non-judgmental and are not mean or hurtful.  They get the point across without hurting anyone’s feelings.  Analogy:  Your comments are like a beacon in the dark and lonely night for me to find my way through the darkness and into the radiance of decent writing. 

Overall, what do you believe are the purpose of my commentary? [8]



[S3] Yes to all.


[S4] You did a great job of teaching with the negative comments, those always ended with a way to improve it, exactly what made it a negative comment, or both. All you need to do to make that score a 10 is to re-enforce the good comments; what made the good? Why?


[S1] You use your comments in class often times to help teach us how to write.  They are helpful and quite useful and beneficial to our learning.


Amounts and Ratio of Commentary



Student Response

Count the total comments I made on your paper


Of all the text on the paper, what would you say the ratio was between how much I wrote on your paper versus the amount of text you wrote on your paper? 

[S3] It seems like the comments jump on the paper, sometimes there are a lot and sometimes there are none, esp. in the middle of the paper






            Each time I conduct a feedback session, I learn more than if I had taken a separate pedagogy course.  It’s fascinating how students can be so insightful and helpful in their commentary if given the freedom and respect to do so.  Specifically, from the feedback my students provided me about my evaluation style, I learned that they are many are more comfortable with constructive criticism than I had previously thought.  The area in which I most need to improve is the description of strong aspects in student writing.  As more than half my students noted in the “what could be better” category, I often simply comment “Strong here!” “Bravo!” or “Fascinating!,” but never explain why the student’s writing was exemplary.  On the most recent set of student papers, I strove to remedy this tendency by tying my positive commentary to elements explicitly stated in the rubric: “Excellent lead!  In analyzing an intriguing quote from your scholar, yet simultaneously flowing into your thesis statement, you create a natural flow from general to specific concepts for your reader.  Bravo!”   








[1] Comments about your structure (thesis statement, focus, topic sentences, support, etc.), your argument, your analysis

[2] Comments about style, either style specific to the discipline (how a science text would be written, or a humanities paper, etc.), or the style of formal writing (avoid contractions, avoid first person, etc.), or documentation style (MLA, etc.)

[3] Sentence-level comments, such as grammar, spelling, and awkward phrasing.

[4] (Such as "you failed to include a thesis statement as required in the assignment" or "this is a very awkward construction"; and  comments that represent "constructive criticism," such as "this line appeared to contain your main point but it comes very late in the paper; move it to the end of the first paragraph.”)

[5] Such as “this line appeared to contain your main point but it comes very late in the paper; move it to the end of the first paragraph.” 

[6] Does it feel like I was explaining and justifying the grade? Was I trying to tell the student what to do next time? Was I trying to explain what the student did well or not well in the paper at hand?

[7] For example, "My teacher’s comments look like a mack truck just driving all over my paper” or “My teacher’s commenting persona is like a fairy godmother who assumes she can just waive a wand over her students and they will be better writers.” Are your comments formal or informal? Stuffy and academic or chummy and personable? Am I responding as a reader of your work or a teacher of your work?

[8] Am I “teaching” with your comments? Am I saying what the student should have done in the paper and didn’t? Am I applying the rubric criteria to the paper and revealing that application in your commentary?