Giving Young Writers Feedback

It’s a fine line when working with young writers.  We want to encourage, support,  build enthusiasm and confidence, but we also want to see true growth and mastery.  Too much feedback, and you get an overwhelmed, cranky, shut-down little writer.  Not enough feedback, and kids miss the opportunity to grow, learn, and meet new writing challenges.  When done well, giving feedback with suggestions is one of the most powerful tools you can use to grow your child’s understanding of writing.  Done poorly, well, that’s when I receive 911 calls.  Luckily, there are a few secrets to the art of walking the fine line.

1.         Create a routine for giving feedback, so it becomes part of your child’s writing process.

2.         Don’t go overboard…choose “working” pieces and let the rest go.

3          Writing is first and foremost about communication, so always, always respond to content first.  For example, “The scene where Thomas tries to sell his sister was really a funny addition to your story,” or “your essay made me see the issue in an entirely new way.”  You get the idea…but keep it authentic.

4.         Give positive feedback before suggestions.  Good writing feedback is not just about “criticism.”  Writers need to hear what they are doing right…. “Your description of the dragon was so vivid, especially the sound and smell details you wove in.”  Or, “I never thought of  researching the real-life attributes of mockingbirds when discussing symbolism in To Kill a Mockingbird, great original thinking.” Acknowledging what has been done well builds confidence, solidifies the skill, encourages future willingness to take risks in writing, and builds trust so your child will also be able to hear your suggestions.

5.         CHOOSE, yes, choose, ONE suggestion to make to the writer.  You want your feedback to be a focused pearl of wisdom…that which will make the biggest improvement in the writing at this moment in time.  If the story doesn’t make sense, I wouldn’t recommend giving feedback on adding adjectives.  You may say, “I couldn’t really follow why Peter left the house.  It didn’t make sense.   Can you tell me why he did that?”  Oh, believe me, your little writer will have a very involved, well-reasoned explanation about why Peter left the house, and will patiently tell you all the details.  That’s when you say, “Well, I think you would really have a fantastic story if you added those parts.  Can you put them in?”  For older writers, your pearl might sound something like: “Your two supporting points are really repeating the same information.  I think your essay would be stronger if you combined those two points….”

6.         Warning:  Kids don’t always take our feedback…even when you know you’ve just blessed them with such sage writing advice they should be kissing your feet.   Have a sense of humor, congratulate yourself on a job well done, and know that in spite of all appearances to the contrary, you have planted a seed that will grow.

            ~ Ivy Sandz