Our evaluation of students' writing is best received when we call attention to strengths as well as weaknesses. A simple way to incorporate both praise and criticism is through the sandwich approach, in which criticism—the meat of our evaluation—is served between two positive statements.
The opening positive statement is a comment on the paper's greatest strength. Even the most floundering paper will exhibit at least one strong point on which we can comment. For example, we might open by noting that the writer demonstrates a clear understanding of course content, is passionate about his or her subject, or has a good sense of audience. We might applaud an area of improvement from previous writing. We, like our students, are so accustomed to targeting weaknesses in academic work that we tend to overlook the strengths. Helping students identify their strengths not only builds their confidence as writers, but it gives them valuable information for continued growth. Knowing their strengths motivates students to apply those strengths to other writing assignments and often suggests an approach for addressing weaknesses.
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