A qualitative study of student response to teacher -written comments

Sharon James McGee, Purdue University


Using a case study approach, the researcher investigated how five first-year students reacted to, used, and responded to the feedback they received from their composition instructors during the second semester course of a two-course writing sequence. The researcher addressed four general questions: (1) What are students' affective responses to teacher-written comments and what accounts for those responses? (2) How do students interpret and/or negotiate teacher-written comments as they revise their writing? (3) What types of comments do students find silencing? developing? (4) How do the classroom context and students' relationship with the teacher affect the way students react to, interpret, and use teacher-written comments? Data were collected through retrospective discourse-based interviews, oral revision logs, written revision logs, and subjects' texts including teacher-written comments. Although the individual subjects' reactions varied, some patterns emerged among the cases. First, all subjects, regardless of gender or revision level, experienced some emotional reaction to reading their teachers' comments; however, the subjects did not have a strong emotional response. Second, subjects tended to think about their instructors' written response as they revised or wrote new essays. The subjects themselves said that they read teacher comments because they believed the comments would help them understand how to get a better grade in the class. Third, the subjects claimed that their attitudes toward the instructor did not influence whether or not they read teacher-written comments, but their attitudes might influence whether or not they placed value on the comments. Fourth, not having a clear understanding of course goals and expectations negatively influenced students as they read and reacted to comments. Fifth, the subjects indicated that they found comments that focused on reader-centered issues most helpful. Finally, comments that were unclear, that addressed matters unrelated to the writing, or that attempted to redirect the paper toward the teacher's thinking were least helpful and often discouraging to students. These findings are further discussed in terms of their implications for theory, practice, research, and the institution.




Weiser, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Composition|Language arts|Educational psychology

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