Back in 2016, with my good friend and then PhD student, Meredith Singleton, we were frustrated with current feedback strategies. Like many anecdotal statements from writing instructors, we, too, found that students were not really using feedback–comments on their papers–in ways that were improving their writing. Further, we doubted that the the comments it took us hours to write were actually doing anything to help students recognize how to revise their own work in the future.
The only empirical study of commenting in TPC was done y Brian Still and Amy Koerber (2009). Their study indicated that students relied more on broader instructions from lectures and readings to guide their writing than they did on more individualized comments. Analysis of the commentary itself revealed that students struggled to understand particular grammatical terminology that instructors commonly included in feedback, such as “awk,” “verb tense,” and “tone.” Furthermore, students revealed that particular symbols and shorthand that instructors used presented frustration, including circled words, underlined phrases, and “=”. Most notably, post-test surveys revealed that students sought feedback that helped them to improve their writing “as efficiently as possible” (Still & Koerber, 2009). This study tells us that while instructors believe that students are either ignoring comments on writing or assuming that they do not read or use feedback in their writing (Horning, 2006), they are actually not ignoring comments; rather, they are engaging with comments that they can use, understand and interpret as opposed to “wasting” time on comments they cannot.
Still and Koerber suggest that to create usable comments, instructors should avoid using unfamiliar terminology for students, ensure comments are legible, avoid using ambiguous circles and lines to highlight content, and distribute comments throughout papers (even on sections that work well). Finally, and most importantly, Still and Koerber suggest that comments offer solutions rather than simply pointing out problems. This study brings to bear the disconnect between the kind of commenting time-constrained instructors are reliant on providing with the kind of feedback students find useful.
Reading this (and other feedback) research in conjunction with our classroom practices led us to develop the idea of the Collective Feedback File (CFF), which eliminates individual comments and focuses on common issues at the formative stage.
Collective Feedback File
The Collective Feedback File (CFF) provides formative feedback from the instructor. In creating the CFF, the instructor identifies illustrative examples from the body of student drafts and links those exemplars to assignment outcomes, showing students what the outcomes look like in student writing and discussing how to achieve outcomes using the exemplars.
Unlike traditional individual instructor feedback that suggests students should follow instructor directions to revise their work, the CFF asks students to take the critical step required to connect the exemplars in the CFF to their own work. This extra cognitive step enables students to identify areas in their own writing that are like those discussed in the exemplar text and enact the improvements necessary to achieve outcomes. In this way, the CFF moves beyond traditional individual instructor feedback.
When USF Writes was developed, it was conceptualized with a specific emphasis on using CFF in the TPC classroom. The technological interface of CFF allows instructors to create collective feedback that is then integrated into the classroom with a deliberate and specific emphasis on revision strategies. And the CFF addresses the concerns that ultimately, student frustration is based on how to use feedback when revising drafts of their writing (Ogange et al., 2018).
The CFF is created within USF Writes and uses student work (i.e. excerpts of your students’ projects) as the examples. The CFF is especially helpful to instructors because, rather than rewriting specific comments to each student, this is an opportunity to give meaningful feedback to all students at one time. It also allows for easy adaptation between F2F and online classes, due to its placement within USF Writes.
The instructor fills in four boxes to complete the CFF, which categorizes each issue according to outcomes, presents the student example, describes why the exemplar illustrates an issue, and provides an explanation of how to improve it. The exemplar text does not include names or other identifying markers, but instructors can explain to students that texts are selected not to single out individuals for criticism, but because discussing the outcome in question can be helpful to all who are working on the assignment.
The CFF is a community document, so, in providing the CFF, instructors should also discuss the feedback as a class to emphasize use of the document and explain any areas of confusion.
When sharing the formative feedback, instructors act as a facilitator between the concepts discussed in the feedback and the students. However, it is up to the students, not the instructors, to make that critical leap between what the objective looks like in the examples and how to improve their assignment. The goal is for students to make the connection between their own work and the examples given.
- Before using the CFF, you, as the instructor, must explain the purpose and pedagogy behind the CFF. Many students do not have experience with a Collective Feedback File. Students have become dependent upon instructors telling them what to “fix” to achieve a certain score. So you must prepare your students by explaining what the CFF is and how to use it.
- Tell students that they are making the critical leap from the example to their own work. Be explicit about how the process of revision takes place over time and through many processes such as these. For example, in the workplace, individual feedback is rare. The CFF represents the type of objective or goal-driven feedback that they will receive in the workplace.
- Demonstrate the process of applying the exemplars in the CFF to the sample paper you used to illustrate self-review. Use coding/highlighting or insert comments into the sample paper labeled with the exemplar from the CFF.
- Make sure the students can read the CFF. Discuss how to engage with the document and how each section helps them make decisions about revision.
- Have the students discuss the benefits and drawbacks of using a CFF.
- Ask the students to return to their checklists from the rubric walk-through activity and make any adjustments or additions.
From a programmatic view, the CFF data gives us a program level insights into the curriculum and student learning. We have also learned a great deal about where we need to provide additional professional development for instructors. Much like Sara Doan’s (2019) findings, CFF data points to the inconsistencies between what instructors think they are commenting on and the feedback they are actually providing. Thus, being able to target specific areas for additional professional development should improve instructor
CFF also allows us as a program to determine the correlation between student work and instructor feedback as it applies specifically to the student learning outcomes.
We have several in-progress projects specific to the CFF and student learning.