PG411: How to Submit Assignments and Questions and Access Feedback
PG411: How to Submit Assignments and Questions and Access Feedback

The Quick Guide to Giving Great College Essay Feedback

We’re guessing that, due to your caseload, you’re often pressed for time, and offering several rounds of feedback to each of your students tends to be difficult, if not impossible.

Given that, our goal at CEG is to give you a way to read a student’s essay, diagnose issues, and point students to where they need to go in the Tool to fix things … in about 5 minutes.

In case you’re curious, here’s an Example of How I (Ethan) Provided 5-Minute Feedback (Twice) to a Student Using the Tool.

Let’s do this.

Some of you know your students really well and have been doing this for many years, so you probably don’t need my help here. But if you’re fairly new to this, or feeling unclear, or just want to see how I approach this:

I tell students that stronger topics for montage are often elastic and uncommon.

As in, can the student connect the topic to a range of different values? And how many other students might talk about the same thing?

For example, if mountain climbing (uncommon topic) connects to family, literature, science, healthy boundaries, personal growth, social justice (a range of values) …

Cool. Probably good to go.

Stronger topics for narrative often have stronger challenges and stronger insights.

Not making the soccer team or bad grades—really tough topics to write well. Living homeless or escaping war—they probably just have to write it and they’re good.

“Stronger insight” obviously isn’t something you can really gauge until they’ve written some drafts. That said, the weaker the challenge, the stronger the insights need to be.

I give them the caveats that I’ve seen students write outstanding essays about common topics (food, for example) and low-stakes challenges (like losing a spelling bee). So, knowing your students, if you think they can take something like that and run with it, awesome. But I think it will be far easier for most students to stand out with the criteria above (and I directly tell them so).

First, here’s a way I conceptualize the writing process:

  1. Content (the what)

  2. Structure (the how)

  3. The Details (smaller concerns)

Consider that, on a first draft, a student is probably still figuring out their content (i.e., what is my personal statement going to be about?).

  • If it’s a narrative essay, I’m asking myself: Are the challenges clear and compelling (i.e., do we care?)?

  • If it’s a montage: Is the topic elastic (“stretchy”) enough to help the student demonstrate a wide range of skills/qualities/values that they’ll bring to a college campus?

  • Overall (no matter the structure): Am I learning a lot about the student? Do I like them and want to hang out with them?

On a First Draft

Don’t touch the grammar. Unless their first draft is incredible, don’t even mention it, especially not on a first read. Why? Because we aren’t there yet! See above.

Don’t proofread either. Basically, I’m advising zero word choice or tiny detail edits—as difficult as that may be! Why? Beyond it not being useful, I think it can actually be detrimental, since it sends students the message that the content (the what) and structure (the how) are already working … and now, we’re onto the finer points. Chances are, though, if the content and structure aren’t working (as they often aren’t on a first draft), then a lot is going to change, and if a student has spent some time fussing over grammar/proofread edits, it might be harder to get them to make big revisions if/when the time comes. (See sunk cost effect.)

On the first draft (and, for many students, the second, third …), just focus on content and structure—you’ll save yourself, and them, a ton of time.

Before and During the Drafting Process

  • Remind students to complete all their work in their Essay Workbook Google Doc (which also includes their brainstorming exercises). Tell them to simply Share this doc to your email address so you can comment.

  • If you’re the kind of counselor who doesn’t mind scaring your students just a little by pointing out that you’ve seen students lose entire essays before by not being organized, feel free :).

    • You (their counselor) can then make comments directly on their documents. If you’d prefer to use MSWord or Pages, simply have them download a copy of their workbook, date it, and email it to you.

Here are the checklists I’m giving students multiple times in the Tool:

For Narrative

Does my narrative outline/essay …

  1. Make clear what my challenges are?

  2. Make clear what the effects of the challenges were on me?

  3. Make clear what I did to overcome my challenges?

  4. Make clear what I learned through these experiences?

For Montage

Does my montage outline/essay …

  1. Make clear what my topic/thematic thread is?

  2. Set up specific examples for each paragraph that clearly link to my clear topic/thematic thread?

  3. Set up what values I’ll show through those specific examples?

  4. Offer possible insights that answer “so what” in regard to my experiences and values?

In the vast majority of cases, especially with early drafts, these are the issues students run into, and giving them quick, clear feedback on these questions will set them up better for their next draft.

If they’re solid on those components, but their beginning, or ending, or transitions need work, send them to the links in the section below.

For narrative

  1. If the challenges + effects aren’t clear, send them here.

  2. If the challenges + effects could be more compelling, send them here.

  3. If the “What I Did About It” element needs to be strengthened, send them here.

  4. If what the student learned from the experiences needs to be improved, send them here.

For montage

  1. If it’s unclear what the student’s topic or thematic thread is, send them here.

  2. If the student hasn’t set up specific examples for each paragraph that clearly link to their clear thread, send them here.

  3. If the student hasn’t established values through their specific examples, send them here.

  4. If the student could use help bringing more insight or “so what” moments, send them here.

If they need a better beginning:

Narrative options are here.

Montage options are here.

For better transitions, go here. (There actually are separate modules, but it’s the same content for Narrative and Montage)

For strengthening insight, send them here. (There actually are separate modules, but it’s the same content for Narrative and Montage)

For a stronger ending, go here. (There actually are separate modules, but it’s the same content for Narrative and Montage)

In case you missed it above, here’s an Example of How I Provided 5-Minute Feedback (Twice) to a Student Using the Tool.

If you have a smaller caseload and would like to track student progress, here’s a sample spreadsheet you can use to manually keep track of student essay topics. And here’s a 2-minute video describing how my colleague, Sandy, and I used this spreadsheet to track student progress during a boot camp.

Finally, for those curious, here are some of the most important differences between…

You are watching: CYOA Tool Quick Guide to Giving Great Feedback. Info created by Bút Chì Xanh selection and synthesis along with other related topics.