We have already touched upon the subject of feedback, and its peculiar and often subjective qualities and content.

Today we resume the topic of feedback and challenge you to an exercise in feedback.

We know that good feedback is always contextual, and is often tricky. Some of the trickiness is in the object of the feedback. Usually, it’s easy to give your opinion and it’s hard to refraining from sounding judgmental. “Your essay was great!” or “The paper is poorly written” are examples of such. These don’t provide the student with enough context and a direction for improvement, or in the former case, don’t point out what exactly the student did right so she can carry it over to her other assignments.

The Judge, the Transparent Reader, and the Transparent Reader Plus Advice Giver

Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Anderson in Effective Grading bring up a concept of the “transparent reader”. I haven’t been able to find any other literature where this term is used, but it appears fairly self-explanatory and, well, transparent!

Walvoord and Anderson propose three categories of feedback givers – the Judge (“Your essay was great!”), the Transparent Reader (“I was confused about the position you are taking on this issue”) and the Transparent Reader plus Advice Giver (“Your arguments in the second paragraph contradict each other. You may want to reconsider the selection of arguments or present which ones you consider valid and support your position”). It’s noted that even in the advice giver role, the instructor offers at least a couple of suggestions so that the student still needs to choose from the examples or come up with a solution of their own. The goal of the advice giver is not to “fix the paper” but rather “to coach the writer”.

Walvoord and Anderson encourage becoming the Transparent Reader, and giving feedback from that position.

Coach the Writer

Keeping in mind the purpose of the feedback, which is to help the student produce a better paper, the instructor will tailor her message to communicate priorities and suggest ways to improve.

Feedback needs to be finely balanced in that it should both be as concrete and tangible as possible – “In the second paragraph, you make a claim but don’t provide any arguments or evidence to support it” – and reflective – “Your choice of words takes away from the message so that I as reader was confused about your position on this issue. How can you articulate your message better given your intended audience?”


A lot of times we are encouraged to use adjectives to better describe our experiences, feelings etc. There is an opinion that when used in feedback, adjectives tend to gravitate to the judge feedback, and are easy to move focus away from the assignment and to the student. Using verbs and descriptive statements about what was or wasn’t done may be more productive and make feedback more effective.

This is the exercise part: Next time you give feedback to students, make it a must not to use any adjectives. Let us know how that goes for you and for your students! We would love to hear!


Of course, the timing of the feedback is also essential. If it’s given to students at the end of the class, chances are there will be no follow up for them – just like there is no resubmitting the final paper at that point! Building feedback into the writing process and commenting on a draft are going to give students both opportunity and time to work on their submissions. We will be offering a webinar with our ideas about it and invite your input and feedback, so stay tuned for more information!

Peer Feedback

In addition – or in lieu of instructor feedback in certain cases – peer feedback can serve a similar constructive role. The instructor role will be amended in this case, as it is now necessary to either provide scaffolding for peers reviewing each other’s papers or to coach them and provide examples – and also challenge them to practice being the “transparent reader” and giving feedback relying mostly on verbs and not adjectives!


Walvoord, B. & Anderson, V. (2010). Effective grading : a tool for learning and assessment in college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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