Assessing/Responding to Student Writing

Assessment engages students in a conversation about course material and acknowledges when they have demonstrated effective communication, comprehension of ideas, and critical thinking. Assessment can improve learning and teaching because it provides an opportunity to establish what you value and how students can achieve course objectives. We encourage instructors to create a hierarchy of concerns, and to focus on these concerns, placing importance on the skills and knowledge the assignment was designed to develop.

When you consider student writing as part of an ongoing process, and offer questions to consider and suggestions for revision, students will learn from their writing and benefit from assessment. Keep in mind, response that focuses on less significant aspects of writing or the assignment increases the likelihood that a student will misunderstand the learning objectives. You are always welcome to work with the Writing & Speaking Studio on the best ways to assess and respond to student writing in your courses.

While there are various formats of writing assessment,you may find them most beneficial when using two or more in conjunction. Below are definitions of some basic types of response:


A rubric is a grading tool that helps you articulate the expectations you have for an assignment, and the degree to which a student has met those expectations. A rubric is usually a grid, where the components of the assignment are listed next to descriptions of what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable performance for each objective. Rubrics allow you to provide clear and timely feedback on student writing, but they are most beneficial for students when they are distributed before students begin writing, so that they may write with your specific expectations in mind.

Marginal Comments

Comments written in the margins and between the lines throughout the student's paper are used to point out specific examples of effective and ineffective writing. However, marginal comments can hinder or prohibit elaboration and students may feel the comments are too vague or too scattered throughout the paper.

Personal Letter/End Comments

This type of response can highlight several major areas on which students should focus their attention for future writing assignments. It is also beneficial because it allows you to elaborate and fully develop comments. When using this type of response, it is important to be specific about what areas of the text you are responding to.

One-on-One Conference

In addition to handwritten comments, instructors may meet with students individually to provide oral feedback, answer questions, and discuss improvements to the paper, as well as assist in developing skills for future writing exercises. This format offers the most direct and detailed response, eliminating the confusion that may arise from written comments alone. Students appreciate being active participants in the revision and assessment process; the one-on-one conference ensures clarity and inclusion.