Feedback and Revision are the Problem

Responding to student writing can be the toughest part of teaching First Year Writing / College Composition. This semester I spent a lot of time writing comments on paper-based texts. I got most of the students to hang on to my comments so they could turn them in with revisions. I do what I can to ask questions and give the students the sort of feedback that leaves them in charge of the draft. However, sometimes something is just wrong. For example, students sometimes italicize quotes. I feel pretty irritated when I give feedback along the lines of don’t italicize the quotes and then I get the revision and all the quotes are still formatted incorrectly. Yes, there are more important issues related to the students’ work, but I’m just giving you one example of how I spend a lot of time writing feedback that gets ignored.  There’s a lot more that I could write here, but what I want is a way to track drafts. The problems I’m writing about today are related to giving feedback to student texts and following the revisions that students do.

There is so much paperwork involved in saving drafts with my handwritten comments, and I think those comments aren’t doing as much good as they could. AND, I will still be faced with reading final DIGITAL portfolios with no access to previous drafts.

I could take you through all that I have tried and thought about that doesn’t work very well, but why would you want to read about that?

My online students do most of their writing on a blog. It’s a pain to either keep track of my thoughts until the end of their post or scroll down to the comments section every time I have a thought. A former professor of mine named Sam Watson used to type his students a letter after reading their work. There’s a lot pedagogically sound about this I think, but many students need examples such as how to write a transition or handle a quote.

I see quite a few possibilities for how I might navigate these problems but none of these solutions has everything I want.

The website Book Country has a way to give feedback that I like:

Book Country, feedback, College Composition, English, Language Arts


From what I understand, Book Country is a Penguin community where those who read and write genre fiction can come together and respond to each other’s work. I cut off the name of the writer’s work I copied here. I hope if you’re from Penguin and come across this, you’re glad I’m sharing your community with readers. If not, I’m happy to take this screen shot down.

What I really like about the Book Country set up are the boxes on the right. I can read the text and just write comments off to the side. I think there is also the potential for the writer (or possibly the teacher) to customize what kind of feedback they are asking for. This could put the writer more in control of the text, or if you prefer, you could think about those boxes in terms of a rubric or objectives.

Here’s two ideas I’m considering:

  • We use Digication ePortfolios at St. John’s.  I could have students upload a file to their portfolio. I could download the file to my computer and give feedback via the Word commenting feature. When I give feedback that way, I’m careful to save feedback as a pdf file so the student doesn’t just leave some of what I’ve written in the draft.  The student would upload revisions and we’d both have access to all the drafts. I’m not crazy-excited about all that uploading and saving or all the drafts I might have open on my computer screen at the end of the semester as I try to track what the student has done in the way of revision.
  • There’s Google Drive, used to be Google Docs.  I could access the student’s writing via a link. I type in comments/feedback, but then what happens? Can the students comment there too? Do we have to do our commenting off to the side? Will we be able to track drafts? How complicated is that?

I want to navigate the cycle of write, comment, revise, and collect to be managed digitally next semester. Can you give me some feedback on my ideas? Do you have a great system I need to learn about?



NCTE 2012 Handout: Twitter in the Writing Classroom

Dear Colleague,

I use a metaphor gifted to me by a former professor to think about my professional life. It goes, Writing Floats on a Sea of Conversation. In the fifteen years I’ve been in writing classrooms, I’ve come to believe it’s important for me to help students navigate all of the conversations they are having in digital spaces. Much of the reading and writing my students do is on the screens of their devices. There is a lot of power up for grabs in these spaces: votes will be garnered and lost, money will change bank accounts, and voices will be heard and suppressed. I originally introduced Twitter into our classroom because I thought it might help with student engagement during class discussions. That didn’t go so well. Students seemed to become lost in the worlds of their screens and the classroom fell silent.  I’d been leaning toward scrapping my use of Twitter until something happened during a conference with a student. Our conversation caused us to enter the student’s major–speech pathology–into the Twitter search box. What we found was a tweet from a speech pathologist about a job opening. For the student, who had always characterized herself as a reluctant user of technology, this was a moment where Twitter was transformed from just one more messaging system she needed to keep up with to a powerful tool that might impact her future. For the next semester, I decided that I’d have students try and find professionals within their field who tweeted. What has happened since then, is that I’ve come to see possibilities for students related to research, gathering news, and building a sense of community in the writing classroom. I see Twitter as one place students can experience a tangible example of how they might situate themselves within a conversation relevant to their lives. As someone who values that sort of  conversation for my own professional growth, I hope you’ll take the time to connect to say hello, note an observation, or ask a question. I’m including some notes below relevant to my experience with Twitter so far. Thanks for reading!



Some thoughts related to Twitter in the writing classroom:

  1. Students can decide to what degree they want to be known on Twitter. If I’m “Writer89,” and my profile picture is an apple, I don’t have to be easily identifiable. Teachers should  at least keep a private record of what student is connected to which Twitter account.
  2. What might students tweet? golden lines from readings or classmates’ writing, questions, notes of encouragement, reflections, or highlights from group work.
  3. You can lose the attention of students to their gadgets. I find myself asking students to open their laptops or get out their phones and then asking them to put those devices away. You might use Twitter as a place for work outside of class time.
  4. I’ve had students write digital literacy narratives. This has worked well.
  5. Twitter has become one more way for students to engage with the classroom community. Some students speak up in class, some do well in small groups, some write emails, and some tweet. Students send tweets to me and each other.
  6. Twitter can be a place for student research as they identify people who tweet articles and links related to conversations that are important to them.

Here’s an excerpt from a student blog that highlights what I think is possible for student research and professional connections through the use of Twitter:

After reading about nuclear pharmacy jobs on @Pharmacy_Job, I decided to search on Twitter more specifically on nuclear pharmacy jobs and I found a page @NuclearPharmacy. According to the description provided, nuclear pharmacy jobs consist of nuclear Pharmacist, radiochemist, health physicists, chemists, pharmacy technicians, and radiopharmacist…I can definitely see myself using this Twitter page! Some interesting articles that I have found on this page include topics concerning diabetes, heroin drug use, and updates from the FDA.  Searching in Twitter has made me realize that the most popular jobs are still in retail and in hospitals. However, other fields and roles are slowly becoming more and more popular as well. These pages will certainly help me find a job when I graduate!

Here are some examples of the sorts of tweets my students publish:

  • I have no clue what to do my documentary film on…
  • Prof. Torg, you’re right when you say that college is a place for trying new things. An example of one of those things is this tweet.
  • Going vegetarian all this week as an experiment for my latest documentary #wishmeluck
  • I found a twitter page titled New York Internships which can help me get an internship in my major
  • social media will soon over take media outlets as time goes on we are beginning to rely more on each other than a third party
  • “The exemplary DJ is a model of rhetorical excellence, and even the everyday DJ is a model of rhetorical agility” Digital Griots
  • my summary of the article i read for hw: the internet is not only changing the way we read, its changing the way we THINK#wow
  • wat do lebron james and professor torg have in common? Hairline.

I hope you’ll take the time to say hello, offer an observation, or ask a question!

Tweet to me @BillTorg or write me an email here:

NCTE 2012 Twitter in the Writing English Language Arts Classroom

A Letter to the Writers in my Summer Composition Course

Hello Everyone!

One of the biggest problems for students in my online classes is that they fail to READ CAREFULLY. The world bombards us with texts, and we are getting used to always skimming. I’m guilty too!  Take the time to read this letter, the syllabus, and watch the tutorial videos on the course website. None of the videos is over 10 minutes long.  That’s a much shorter lecture than many of you are used to. 🙂

I’m writing you because you are currently enrolled in the Summer I writing course I am teaching. In order to take this class, you will need a willingness to try new things, have regular access to the internet, and the desire to keep up with your work and stay in communication with me. This course will be over before you know it! Time flies in summer writing.

As you’ll soon see, I believe college is a place to try new things, to stretch yourself intellectually, and to get out of your comfort zone. Why just jump through the same old academic hoops you’ve been jumping through for years? You’ll do most of your work on a WordPress blog this semester, and I have some experiments planned when it comes to Facebook and Twitter. I realize some of you might have good reasons you object to social media, and if that’s you, just be in touch with me as the course moves along.

William Torgerson Writing Teaching College Composition

The Course Webpage / Click on Pic to Check it Out

You should know that just about everyone in the class thinks they aren’t a very good writer and is embarrassed to have others read their work. If that’s not you, please be sensitive to your classmates’ fears!  Once you start reading each other’s work, you’ll see we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  I really admire those of you who are writing in English as a second language. That is so much work, and I admire your intellectual ambition! Writing is something that happens in process.  We can write a bad first draft just to have something to work with and then we can go about making it better. You’ll be graded on keeping up with the work and the work you do to make the draft better as the class goes along.  You will not be graded on the quality of your first drafts.

I’m attaching the syllabus.  You can print it out and read over it, but it is also available online. I’ll give you the course website at the end of this email. The syllabus is going to look very long.  Don’t be afraid!  I think it is long because I explain what you need to do in great detail.  I hope you’ll find everything explained clearly.

This is important: Once you are on the course website, you will occasionally need a password.

(Password Information section removed)

I used to be a basketball coach, but I was converted to writer by some life experiences I had in the way of meeting people and reading texts that changed my life. Watch out. The reading and writing you do may change your life. Be on the lookout for that.

The course begins on Tuesday, May 29. I’ll respond to any email questions you have before then, but I’ll respond to your work the day or two after it is due. Like you, I’m pretty tired out from the year and getting this course ready for you all.

If any of you are in places where YouTube is blocked, you won’t be able to access some of the tutorial videos. If that’s the case, you and I can write back and forth if you have trouble setting up your work.

The course website is below.  I look forward to meeting you through the work of this course!