42 Narrative Feedback Encourages Growth in Writers

Sean Glaser

In the classroom, rubrics can be useful tools to help you complete assignments. This is especially helpful in non-art classes like math, science, and history. Art classes like English are a different story however. Rubrics provide an overview of what your teacher is expecting of you on a certain project. Teachers look at the rubric and use it as a resource while reading papers. This saves time on grading for the teacher. This is a good strategy for most courses, but art classes like English need more special attention.

Rubrics organize assignments into levels and criteria. For example, when it comes to a project in a history class this works well but grading an essay using a rubric doesn’t help the writer. In English, a rubric doesn’t simplify an assignment, it does the opposite. It does not provide any written feedback, a crucial part of developing your writing. Rubrics generally aren’t flexible so you need to abide by whatever is on it. Rubrics look to simplify teacher responses for the sake of efficiency at the cost of your growth.

Interestingly enough, the word rubric stems from the Latin word “red”, ruber. Red refers to the ink that manuscript writers would use to leave notes in books. The red ink came from impure iron that would be refined to make red ink. Even from the root of the word, rubrics focus on impurities. The way rubrics tell you what is wrong doesn’t help improve your writing in the future. On top of that, rubrics give the illusion that your writing can simply be corrected, and that the same correction could be made for any person and any paper they may write. Instead, teachers should give you more constructive feedback specific to the paper they are writing, focusing more so on revising or even re-envisioning a paper. Sometimes the best thing to do for a writing assignment is to take it from another perspective, or re-envision it. Feedback like that will really help you become more confident in your own writing.

Modern definitions of a rubric put a heavier emphasis on rulesets. This notion of a ruleset to writing is damaging to writers. It pushes the status quo and doesn’t leave any room for experimentation, a practice that should be celebrated in writing. Without experimentation there would be no innovation. If you follow the rubric and arrive at a conclusion the rubric says you did well, but if you arrive at the same conclusion but deviate from the rubric, regardless of how good your writing is you will get a bad grade, rubrics don’t account for the unexpected. Experimenting with writing is inherent in the art form, following a rubric closely will limit yourself as a writer.

Following a rubric is the antithesis of what good writing does. Many established writers say that they don’t even know what they are writing until they start writing it. Writing is another form of thinking, you take thoughts that you have and jot them down on paper. You’re actively interpreting thoughts into language and expressing them artistically. Rubrics are made before the essay is written so it is a preconceived guideline. They imply that the task is understood before you even begin writing. Rubrics also make the bold assumption that writing works the same way for everyone, every time they write, which is miles from the truth. Each writer has their own way of writing, each person’s writing process is unique to themselves and the paper they’re writing. You’re going to take a different approach to a research paper than a creative nonfiction paper, rubrics don’t account for that. Even when a rubric works successfully by evaluating the writing properly, you end up writing to the rubric and not writing to think. You should be encouraged to branch out in their writing and write papers you can take pride in, and not simply for the grade you get.

Another modern definition of a rubric is a heading or category, meaning rubrics help put a label on a piece of writing and by extension a label on the writer as well. The more detailed a rubric is, the less efficient the rubric is at labeling writing. By design rubrics can not be wide-ranging or all-inclusive, while also being effective at labeling and categorizing. Because of that rubrics don’t allow for outside-the-box ways to reach the given goal.

The use of rubrics come from the social sciences, where they are most effective. Since it is effective in the social sciences the powers that be decided to integrate it with the arts, which doesn’t work as well. Rubrics ask the teacher to view writing as data and not what it is, art. Since it is an art it needs special attention when you are grading it, attention that a rubric can’t give it. Each paper needs to be looked over and constructive suggestions need to be given. Even though rubrics are less effective, teachers have to use them to grade. It makes papers easier for the teacher to grade, but it really isn’t helping you.

The goal of studying humanities versus the arts are vastly different. In the arts your goal is to become more creative and open-minded, while social sciences are more focused on applying principles or terms and facts. So it’s only natural that these two different areas of study have different grading systems. The most important goals in the arts, specifically writing, are the hardest to evaluate. All of this makes rubrics much less effective at grading arts.

Some rubrics take a more holistic approach to grading, moving away from rubrics that label and score. Unfortunately, the more holistic the rubric is, the less efficient it is and because of this the allure of rubrics fades away completely. Rubrics are meant to speed up the grading process and holistic rubrics didn’t hold up as well. While rubrics can be used to give narrative feedback, you’re better off not using one simply because of the potential for prescriptive feedback from the rubric. Descriptive feedback benefits writers much more than prescriptive feedback would. Letter grades don’t help writers as much as narrative feedback does. Writers, especially aspiring writers, need to hear what their strengths and weaknesses are in order to flourish as writers in the future, it seems simple but it really does help. Getting narrative and formative feedback from a mentor helps the writers gain confidence in their writing along with learning to lean into their strengths. Writing teachers especially should be able to help give you options to work with as you write.

Formative and narrative feedback helps build confidence in aspiring writers. Narrative feedback encourages self-reflection. Self-reflection helps you learn and grow even when you are no longer in school. Simple questions and suggestions, like “what if” questions, can inspire the writer to branch out and explore different areas of writing that are out of their comfort zone. Using small suggestions like this allows the teacher to give personal feedback to each person and each paper they write, resulting in much more useful feedback that means more to aspiring writers since it is tailored to their paper specifically. Rubrics leave feedback for the end of an essay but doesn’t leave room for feedback during the writing process. Getting real-time feedback gives the writer an immediate response to their writing, allowing them to adjust their writing before turning it in. Stepping away from rubrics and using more narrative feedback will help a writer develop their skills and continue to grow as a writer.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Good Ideas About Writing Copyright © 2021 by Sean Glaser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book