Teacher comments are gold. Many students ignore them or give them a cursory glance. I’ve seen these students make the same mistakes over and over until I step in and have them look more closely.
So sit him down and look at them together. Why? They’re a specific, straightforward way to raise his grade. Could be for the next paper (if the comments are on the final version of the paper) or for that same paper (if this just a first step or draft).
Make sure the comment makes sense. Translate the wording and help him understand what the teacher is asking for (i.e. “mechanics issue here” or “convoluted argument”). If you’re both stumped (or the handwriting is chicken scratch), make sure he meets with the teacher.
Put the comment in the paper. Sometimes he’ll know what the teacher’s asking for but has no idea HOW to implement the comment. Or he doesn’t practice using it so doesn’t end up remembering it for the next paper. Either way, that feedback is lost to him. So try to actually take the sentence or section that has the comment and discuss how to revamp it. Or have him rewrite it with your guidance. (Note: tread lightly if it’s a draft – it should be his writing). If you’re both stumped about how to use some comments, suggest he put a question mark next to those and meet with the teacher to discuss specifics about how to put them in the paper.
Go over the comments with the teacher. Going over comments with the teacher can be the most helpful option. Suggest he take notes on what she says. This is very key as half the stuff will go right out of his head 30 minutes later. Then look at the notes together (planning on this might help encourage him to actually take the notes). Do this even if the paper has already been graded – this way he can stop repeating the same mistakes.
Make a list. If he’s game, write down a one page bulleted list of the stuff he should watch for when writing the next time. Nothing long, just something short and to the point that can help him remember how to strengthen his writing. Stick it somewhere he’ll see it and won’t lose it (on his laptop or over his desk or on the fridge). Then set up to double check it together when he’s got another paper.
SAMPLE LIST TO STICK ON THE FRIDGE
- watch for being repetitive – come up with different words for something I repeat a lot
- make an outline first to plan paragraphs
- after every book quote put at least two sentences explaining 1) what the quote is actually saying/means and 2) how the quote backs up my topic sentence for the paragraph
- parenthetical citation format: (Lee 56)
- jazz up the opening hook of the intro: literary quote, ask a question
- review commas rules from 9th grade packet I have (watch: introductory clauses!!!)
- watch for there/their typos
COMMON TRICKY COMMENTS
“too repetitive” – The hard part here is knowing what is repetitive in a paragraph. Half the time students think they’re simply being detailed or thorough. Look closely at each sentence in that section together and see if certain facts or phrases are being said over and over. Or if the same thing is being stated, just using different words. He also might be repeating things to fill space. Take a look at what else could be argued or included that would replace some of the repetitive info. Facts or an argument need only be stated once or twice in a paragraph – otherwise it’s overkill.
“elaborate here” – A hard kind of comment cause it’s pretty vague. Usually it comes after a quote that he failed to fully explain and link to his argument. In that case check to see how he can point to particular phrases in the quote and translate what they’re saying and discuss how they relate to his argument. Sometimes the comment comes after a juicy insight he has pointed to very briefly that would really enrich his argument if he explained it more fully. Try to help him work out what he was getting at when he brought up that juicy insight and do a bit more work (reading the texts or a tad more research) to figure out how to say more about it.
“needs organization” – This tends to point to that tough area of planning an essay’s structure. This means grouping the info clearly into paragraphs with a specific argument or topic for each paragraph and clearly laying out each paragraph so that each point flows after the other in an organized way. First off, find out if he skips or is confused by the outlining process. Help him create a loose outline for the essay so the ideas aren’t jumbled or repetitive. He may also need practice mapping out a paragraph so it doesn’t wander and makes more sense. Could mean making little checklist: does the paragraph have a clear topic sentence that sums up the argument? Does all the info in the paragraph relate directly to that topic sentence argument? Are the quotes and facts clearly introduced and explained? Does the paragraph have a logical order? Is there a clear wrap up sentence that helps transition to the next paragraph?