Rhetoric of Teacher Comments on Student Writing

  • Robin Martin York College of Pennsylvania


The present study replicates Dana Ferris’s study of classroom rhetoric via one method of professional communication between teacher and students: teacher commentary on student papers. Ferris has analyzed student revision using the measures of the length, types, use of hedges, and text-specificity of teacher comments on rough drafts. The rhetoric that an instructor applies in comments is hypothesized to correlate to the students’ decisions to revise thoroughly and their ability to do so. The present study includes primary research conducted with a section of Analytical Reading and Writing (WRT 102), a required first-year writing course at a small (5,000 students), private college in south central Pennsylvania.1 Teacher comments on ten mid-draft student papers are categorized according to length, type, use of hedges, and text-specificity. Subsequent student revision is analyzed given the classification of the comments. The results of this study are compared to those Ferris found in her 1997 study at California State University. This research draws conclusions about the best method for teachers to employ in their comments on student writing to maximize the potential for revision.