TFT and Grading

I just finished reading Responding to Student Writers by Nancy Sommers. As an English professor i’ve struggled with finding ways of increasing the need (manufacturing the need) for students to read and integrate feedback comments. Now that I’m teaching Freshmen composition again, this need is even greater as my comments can lead to long-term learning about writing (thanks #transfer and #TFT theory). But, the struggle is always how… to engage students with your feedback.

Two recommendations made by Sommers resonated with me:


Tie the responses back to the shared language of the course – preferably composition focused language. This has connections/implications to Teaching for Transfer (which is how I initially found this book).

This reminded me of a grad course I completed (I still call it “The Hardest Class I’ve Ever Taken” when referring to it) where the professor provided an ‘editing marks’ handout early in the semester to help students with writing. Then after receiving a disappointing grade on my first essay – the editing marks didn’t help me I just had a “Come to Office Hours” remark. I had no idea what to do, AND the professor was super intimidating. Due to this experience, Sommer’s remark that edit marks don’t resonate well with students really hit home for me. While I work to avoid these edit remarks, building a shared vocabulary is currently missing – again, I’m working on this.


Sommers develops ‘manifesto’s’ of the purpose of feedback (from a student and instructor point of view) to clearly indicate the purpose of feedback, what students should do with it, how students should understand it.

As we move forward with a TFT curriculum that also utilizes theme based readings I want to develop a similar ‘manifesto.’ I really need a better title that fits the students at my institution and our goals for this curriculum.

The interesting thing about this process of creating a manifesto and tying it to the new curriculum is the need to map curriculum to not just assessment AND research design – but also to expectations for transfer as it relates to the expectations for transfer (transfer to future assignments in the course, transfer across courses). While this seems like obvious connections – in discussions we tend to treat these as discrete entities.

Assignments exist and we create assignments – we tie this to learning. This is normal for instructors.

Assessment exists and we create assessment – we construct rubrics to help – we tie assessment to assignments. Occasionally we’re asked to develop programatic assessment – but this larger assessment goal is less common so much much harder! Some of this is normal for instructors, some is difficult.

Manifesto’s exist as a genre of writing, but normally as more political documents. The idea of using a manifesto type approach to aid student revision and transfer of writing knowledge is a new idea to me – one I’m SUPER excited about.

So, moving forward, I am working on a way of developing this working manifesto as an in-flux document to be developed by courses to provide space and agency to writers to control their connection to revision AND their understanding of transfer. YAY Revision/Transfer manifesto’s as a way to support writing self-awareness!


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