End-of-Semester Feedback Frustrations

This semester, I taught English 693: Teaching College Composition.  It’s a course that all first-year Teaching Assistants in the English Department take in Fall semester.  In it, they learn about research on writing and build their own curricula for Spring semester while, at the same time, carrying out a curriculum (we call it the “common assignment sequence”) in an English 101 class.

At the end of this week, they’ll be handing in their final portfolios.  The portfolio has a few different elements, and some—like the Spring curriculum they write—are fairly straightforward in terms of the feedback that I give them.  But there are some other aspects, like the theoretical framework that supports the curriculum, that I find a good deal harder to respond to.

This is really a feature of my own feedback practices: whenever I respond to student writing, I am always giving them some feedback that they can (I hope!) take up in the next assignment in some way, or in class.  So there’s always an action item for them, something for them to do.

But some parts of this final portfolio (and all final projects in some of the other classes I teach) don’t have a clear “next step.”  Sure, the curriculum will have to be used in class, and I can comment on that.  But what kind of feedback can I give on a reflective paper when they aren’t going to be turning back to that reflection in any predictable way?

I mean, I could always go the route of praise, and talk about how great everything looks, but how helpful is that, exactly, for these students?  I could also just make the comments defenses of my grading.  But, again, how helpful would that be?

This is not a new concern of mine: I always end every semester giving some kind of feedback that I am unhappy with, and that I always think I can improve on.  And then, when the next semester ends, any attempts to improve have invariably created new problems for me.

I receive final 693 projects on Friday, and then I’ll spend the better part of the next week generating some feedback.  I’ll check back in with how it went afterward, and discuss in greater detail my attempts to make end-of-semester feedback helpful for my students.

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