Fostering Writing Community

Reflection, Feedback, and Dialogue in the Writing Intensive Classroom

Just as learning does not occur through the mere transmission of written or spoken information, nor does feedback delivery on its own lead to learning improvement. For students to learn they must do something with transmitted information, analyse the message, ask questions about it, discuss it with others, connect it with prior understanding and use this to change future actions. The same is true for feedback comments. While the quality of the comments is important, the quality of the students’ interaction with those comments is equally, and perhaps more, important. (Nicol, 2010)

 Reflective Writing
Student Reflection Writing
  • Have students write reflective cover letters to be submitted alongside their assignments - see UWS Cover Letters below
  • Provide opportunities during class for reflective writing and freewriting – see freewriting below
  • Consider assigning journals, posts, or other low-stakes, reflective assignments that prompt students to engage with course content in an informal, reflective way.
Instructor Reflection Writing
  • Keep a teaching journal to reflect back on classroom activities, student writing, your own grading/responses
  • Practice “reflection-in-action” (Edgington, 2020 p. 143) when stuck on how to respond to a student’s writing. Pausing to write reflectively about your own teaching can interrupt bias and help you communicate better with your students. 
Fostering Writing Community
  • Provide a classroom-wide vocabulary of writing early in the semester so that students and instructors alike can communicate effectively over their writing.
  • Consider having peer-to-peer writing feedback opportunities or assignments. See: Peer Review for a Research Paper.
  • Consider assigning a collaborative writing assignment or in-class collaborative writing exercises
  • Talk openly with your students about your own struggles, experiences, joys, etc. with writing.
  • Provide [formally or informally] opportunities for students to share their progress with their writing assignments with each other and/or the whole class. 
UWS Cover Letters

Students submit a letter alongside their writing assignment addressed to their reader or the instructor. In the letter, writers:

  • summarize, in informal language the main ideas and arguments of their writing.
  • self-identify weaknesses and strengths of their writing
  • aspects of their writing that they like or what part of the process they enjoyed
  • ask you questions about or request more feedback on particular aspects of their writing
  • Instructor feedback (as well as their peers’ feedback) is likewise structured in a letter format that in large part responds to the cover letter.

The self-identified concerns of the student serve as an additional guide to what the student was trying to achieve and what kind of feedback will be most effective for them.


A form of "low stakes writing" usually with a prompt. A kind of structured journaling that is used as an emotional and analytical processing tool. Turn off your inner editor, everything goes. Be emotional, use dashes instead of any other punctuation, use foul language, go nuts! 

Some freewriting prompts to get undergraduate writers thinking deeper about their academic writing and about themselves as writers:

  • Finish this statement: "When I think ahead to writing my paper, I feel ...
  • What does it feel like when I don’t write? What does it feel like when I am productive? How can I use this information in the future?
  • Where is my favorite place to write? Why? Can I recreate that same environment in small ways elsewhere?
  • Has anyone ever said anything really nice about your writing, work ethic, research, habits, or even just something nice about you? What was it? How did it make you feel? How can you incorporate that positive feedback into your writerly identity?
  • What part of my paper am I most proud of?
  • What aspects of writing do I enjoy the most? Why?
  • What aspects of writing do I struggle with the most? Why? How can I make that part of writing more tolerable or enjoyable or, simply, less of a struggle?
  • What kind of writer am I? Avoid qualitative terms like good and bad and instead focus on more words to describe your style (concise, smooth, dorky), productivity (early bird, weekend warrior, one-hour champion), or emotions (anxious, happy, passionate). How does that description you gave yourself make you feel?
  • How many pieces of evidence do I use in my paper/paragraph? Do I explain/analyze my evidence for my reader? How does my evidence match the claims I make in my paper?
  • What is the story that my thesis is the moral to?
  • What are a few things I learned about ________. How does this make me feel? What is surprising or interesting about these ideas?
  • If I were going to explain my paper to a family member or friend who knows nothing about this topic, where would I start? What would I explain next? And next after that?
  • How does it make me feel to share my writing with others? Why?
  • What are 1-2 really interesting things that I have learned from my research on this topic?
  • Why do I find this topic interesting?
  • Who has an interest in this topic?
  • Why are we still talking or need to talk about this topic?
  • What new factors to consider?
  • Who is/was most affected?
  • What do we do with this information?
  • What is the research question that my paper answers?
Further Reading/References: 

Baker, S., Formo, D. M., Headley, C., & Springer, L. M. M. (2021). Transforming the Feedback Paradigm: A Qualitative Study Examining a Student- Centered, Question-Based Pedagogy in College Composition and Literature Courses. Teaching English in the Two Year College, 48(4), 387–412. 

Edgington, A. (2020). Breaking the Cycle: Using Reflective Activities to Transform Teacher Response. Journal of Response to Writing, 6(1). 

Macklin, T. (2016). Compassionate Writing Response: Using Dialogic Feedback to Encourage Student Voice in the First-Year Composition Classroom. Journal of Response to Writing, 2(2). 

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: Improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 501–517. 


Elissa Jacobs and Paige Eggebrecht