Commenting on Comments: Getting Students to Read and Understand Feedback - National Council of Teachers of English
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Commenting on Comments: Getting Students to Read and Understand Feedback

This post by NCTE member Anne Mooney was reprinted from her blog Habits of ELA: Reflections of a High School ELA Teacher. 


Something I often hear from other teachers is that students never read or internalize the feedback they receive from their teachers. And frequently, from these same teachers, I hear them suggest, with exasperation and frustration, that their feedback is a waste of their time.

In my first month or so of teaching, I also noticed that there were students who weren’t reading my feedback, and it became even more obvious because they would make the same mistakes (that I commented on) in future drafts or future papers. I found myself also getting frustrated, so I started to think about different ways I could ensure that students were actually reflecting on the feedback I was providing, and I came to the conclusion that I should have students write about their feedback.

As a do now or an exit ticket, I have students first read through all of the feedback I provided them, and then, I ask students to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the most important strength of your paper?
  2. What is an area in which you need to improve?
  3. What is something you would change if you were to rewrite this paper? (Grammar and/or spelling don’t count.)
  4. What is something you think you need more support on in order to be more successful in your next paper?

I don’t always have students answer these questions, and/or I sometimes don’t have students answer all of these questions, but I’ve found that when students do this, they internalize and appreciate the feedback I provide more. Having students write about the feedback, in their own words, helps them better understand it. And if you have students keep track of their answers to these questions, they can look at any trends they see and take appropriate action. For example, if they’re always writing down that their thesis needs improvement, they’ll see they need to take more time on that step when writing and/or seek further instruction.

Something I haven’t yet tried, but may offer this year is to allow students to record themselves answering these questions using Loom. (To hear more about Loom and its place in the classroom, check out this post). This would allow students to answer the questions in a format that they find most comfortable and beneficial.

Having students reflect and write (or video record) about the feedback they are given puts the responsibility on them, and it gets them moving towards more metacognition within their own learning and writing, which, I would argue, is the ultimate goal of education.



Anne Mooney teaches ninth- and twelfth-grade English at Malden High School in Malden, MA. Her academic interests of digital literacies and trauma theory have inspired both her classroom and her scholarship. Follow her on Twitter at @ammoons or on her blog,