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How to Give Positive Feedback on Student Writing

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“Good job.” “Good. Powerful sentences.” These vague and ineffective comments have been popping up in my writing feedback recently, even though I know they don’t mean much to students. As I watch myself typing, I know it’s trite. On the other hand, my comments are long and detailed. Suggestions and corrections abound. I realized THAT I was focusing too much on grading students’ work and not enough on the goal of giving rich, positive feedback.
As a writer, I know how difficult it is when negative feedback outweighs positive feedback. We all have things we need to work on, but focusing on what needs to be fixed can make it hard to feel like our skills are being seen and appreciated. My students put so much into their writing that they deserve more than my two word positive sentences.
I wanted to break the mold, so I turned to my favorite professional network, Twitter for teachers, for help. “What is your favorite positive comment about student writing?” I asked. Here are the best responses and topics from more than 100 teachers.

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To open a window into your experience as a reader
Students often don’t see us when we experience their writing. A powerful positive comment: insights that help students understand our reactions as readers. Teacher Amy Ludwig Vandervot shared the stem of these sentences, explaining that “commenting on our reading experience before writing skills is a gift.”
That part really got to me.
I laughed out loud when I read that.
Your writing got me thinking…
You opened a door in my heart.
Now I’m questioning…
And now I’m connected to…
Now I remember…
Virginia S. Wood shared a similar sentiment: “I tell them that when I read their work, if I smile and laugh and nod and make a fist, I tell them exactly where and why.”
I took Wood’s advice when I recently reviewed a draft of a student project that pleased me. I wrote to her, “Now I have the biggest smile on my face. It’s a great start.”
Giving students an understanding of our experiences as readers helps to connect the social and emotional elements of writing. Positive comments that highlight our reading experience can encourage students to think more consciously about their readers when they write.
Recognize the author’s skills and choices
Effective feedback also reflects a student’s voice and skills as a writer. Pointing out students’ choices and writing actions can help them feel that we see and value their efforts. Joel Garza shared: “I avoid saying ‘I’, which seems more like showing off my reading ability than their writing ability.” Garza suggests using “you” instead, as in, “You created X so smoothly… “Or” You navigate this topic in such an engaging way, especially through…” “And” You chose the perfect tone of voice for this topic because…”
Likewise, seventh-grade teacher Jennifer Leung suggests pointing out these moments this way: “Skilled examples/uses (transitions, examples, grammatical structures).” This also helps to reinforce the terminology, concepts and writing movements we have reviewed in class.