Chapter Overview

An essential element of effective writing pedagogy involves responding to students’ writing, and it is a cornerstone of the PWR curriculum since that feedback will be instrumental for students as they build their portfolios (see the pathways in Chapter 6 to help you think about connecting feedback with assignment sequencing). While individual assignments are not given a numerical or letter grade, your feedback will be one of the primary ways that students will come to understand how their work will be assessed when they turn in their final portfolios. In what follows, we offer some guidelines that will support you in evaluating and responding to your students’ writing, and information on grading portfolios can be found in Chapter 7: Portfolios in English 131.

The chapter is divided into three parts. “Responding to Student Writing” takes up  long-standing practices of effective responses to writing, considering distinctions between critique and response and suggesting some ways to navigate response practices in line with your pedagogical praxis and commitments. In “Responding to Troubling Student Papers” we share some issues that can come up for instructors with student writing and some strategies for addressing them. Finally, “Dealing with Plagiarism” explains how to prevent plagiarism in your class, the evolving complexity of AI aids to writings, and what to do if you think a student engages in academic dishonesty.


Decades of research on writing, as well as our own experiences navigating our own writing process underscores the essential role that feedback and engaging with feedback plays in improving our writing. One of the most significant ways that you’ll provide students with this feedback will come through responses you make to their assignment submissions. Your students will then use that feedback to engage in revision and assemble a final portfolio that showcases their learning and reflections on the writing process.

You can share feedback in a wide range of ways: handwriting comments in the margins or at the end of printed drafts; typing comment bubbles on electronic documents; using the commenting features available through Canvas’s SpeedGrader™; recording video or audio clips where you talk through your comments, perhaps while scrolling through a draft; holding conferences with your students (for more on conferencing, see chapter 8, “Talking with Students: Conferencing and Classroom Discussion” ); and more. One of the reasons that we do not put grades on assignments until the portfolio is to enable ourselves to focus on suggestions and strategies for revision, thus helping us to resist feeling a need to justify a particular assessment category.

Of course, grades do not totally disappear, and we’ll discuss grading further in Chapter 11, “Designing an Assessment Ecology”. For now, however, we want to underscore that there is a relationship between the feedback you give students, the assessment ecology that you design, and the ways that you and your students internalize and come to understand the PWR 100-level Course Outcomes. We don’t want you to ignore the fact that there will be a grade assigned at the end of the course; students struggle with confusion when they don’t understand how the choices and actions they take over the course of the quarter have consequences for how they will be assessed. At the same time, how students’ writing develops over the course of the quarter rarely follows a linear path, and our goal is to support all students in revising and assembling a portfolio that best showcases their reflections and engagement with the 100-level course outcomes.

Suffice to say, responding to student writing, no matter how you undertake it, will be one of the biggest ways you’ll spend your time as an instructor. While each of you will develop a response practice specific to your pedagogical practice and commitments, and there are few if any hard-and-fast rules, we want to share some starting points as you develop your own response style.

Building an Effective Response Practice

Goals in Responding

One of your primary goals in providing feedback on an assignment is to give students a sense of how you are responding as a particular kind of reader to their draft. While you are their course instructor, you are also a certain kind of person with particular experience and knowledge that will inform the questions you ask and suggestions that you make. Helping students understand what kind of reader you are will help them in determining how they want to respond to your feedback (as well as the other sources of feedback they receive over the quarter).

To give your students a sense of who you are as a reader, we recommend building some (or all) of the following into your response strategies:

  • Communicating back to the writer what you hear or pick up on as the key points or interventions or arguments in the project (Stephanie likes to do this as the starting point of her end comment)
  • Identifying places in the draft where you as a reader had a particularly strong response – whether positive or negative – and offering a sense of why / how this response emerged for you
  • Sharing other perspectives and supporting composers in considering areas of the project that might benefit from additional attention, development, use of/references to source material and/or course concepts
  • Giving composers some concrete directions for revision

First Things First: Time Spent Responding to Assignments

Responding to student writing can be incredibly time consuming. Veteran composition instructors frequently say they aim to spend 15-20 minutes per paper, but this pacing comes from years of experience and practice responding to student writing. Instructors newer to teaching composition tend to report taking significantly more time. However, it’s essential to keep track of your time and to do your best to keep commenting within the time allocated for teaching in your QJDA.

One pitfall we frequently see new instructors falling into is grading obsessively byspending significant amounts of time writing long comments that fill the entire margin of the draft, and “fixing” minor punctuation errors, misspelled words, and strange new syntactic constructions—the latter of which may very well keep you from considering the content that speaks to the primary focus of the assignment and uphold certain white, upper class American norms of writing. To help you avoid this pitfall, we share here four key reasons to avoid overachiever grading:

  1. There are not enough hours in the day, and your other work will suffer.
  2. The students at the bottom of the pile will bear the brunt of you having spent an hour on each of the first 15 students’ assignments. Save some steam!
  3. This kind of commenting will often lead the student to think of the draft less as a project-in-progress, and more as a fixed object which, if only they go through the list of “repairs” that you’ve prescribed, will be finished. Your comments will be for naught when you focus on the product, not the process of writing.
  4. Your students are human, and as such, they can only absorb so much information—too many comments can even cause less progress by overwhelming the student. Remember that competence in all of the outcomes describes a final aim of a quarter-long course, not the aim of each every draft. Be reasonable and prioritize the areas where you want students to spend their revision energy.

Time and again we hear that time management is one of the biggest challenges new instructors will face in teaching 131. Developing a sustainable practice of responding to student writing will thus be an essential part of building a pedagogical praxis. This means considering how to balance commenting on assignments with the rest of your teaching, your own scholarship, and your life outside UW (which you absolutely need to cultivate!). Here are some ways to manage:

  • Skim each student’s draft before you begin commenting on it. You’ll notice major things that require attention and won’t be tempted to waste your time on smaller issues. An alternative method: Skim through several of the drafts before settling down to read them. You can sort them into high, middle, and low range. This will help you comment consistently and highlight common mistakes that will make your commenting more efficient.
  • Decide how much time you’ll spend with each draft before you begin, and stick to this time limit! Use a timer if you need to. (This will also ensure that you distribute your time fairly among students.) A good time limit may be 10-15 minutes on shorter assignments and 20-30 minutes on longer assignments. It may be hard at first, but you will get faster as you become more experienced.
  • “Rule of 3”: Limit yourself to three written comments per page, plus an end comment if you’d like. Use your end comments to briefly summarize (1-2 sentences) your main take-away from the project and reinforce for the writer how you hope they will make use of the marginal comments (2-3 sentences).
  • For shorter assignments, design a chart or checklist rubric that you complete and return to students along with their drafts. Your rubric can list the things you’re looking for in the assignment (perhaps directly citing the outcomes or the evaluation criteria outlined in your assignment prompt), and provide check boxes for evaluation using the language of the final portfolio rubric (outstanding, strong, etc.) You can also leave (a small) space for more specific written comments.
  • Don’t read all 23 assignments in one sitting. Responding to student writing is intense intellectual work and requires significant focus. Take breaks and pace yourself over a period of time rather than trying to do it all in one burst, which can lead to you being unable to approach those last papers with the same fair eye you had for the first few.
  • If you see students making similar choices that you find particularly ineffective, don’t offer the same advice over and over for each student; bring these issues up to the whole class. When doing so, you may want to bring in anonymous samples (get students’ permission first) or make up your own samples. Sometimes it’s useful to keep a document with common comments / issues you explain frequently that you can copy and paste.
  • Try to have (some) fun! Grading can be more enjoyable if you read with an open mind—to practice active “liking,” as Peter Elbow enjoins, not just looking for mistakes/ . Progress can be made through doing more of a good thing, and even writing a simple “haha” when a student makes a humorous point can do a great deal of work in establishing a productive feedback relationship that students want to take part in. If you find yourself dreading the boredom reading assignments, consider a more personal or creative prompt in the future.
  • Consider leaving a draft or two you know will be good for the end, rather than deferring those you know will be hardest to read; you’ll be glad you did!

Use the Course Outcomes

If you design each assignment with the outcomes in mind, are explicit about which outcomes or traits are targeted in each assignment by including evaluation criteria in your assignment prompts, and discuss the outcomes and your expectations with your students, you can use these expectations to guide your comments. For example, if one of your assignments asks students to support their claim with evidence that comes from a text they have read, you can focus your comments on the strength of their evidence and their use of quotation and summary. It would not be as helpful to your students to focus on the complexity of their claim if the exercise was meant for them to apply evidence in a particular way.

Sometimes it’s hard to identify just why a draft—or a whole group of drafts—isn’t working. The course outcomes and traits should help you remember things about conducting research, for example, which have probably become second nature to you as a writer. As mentioned earlier, some instructors even use these outcomes to organize their end comments categorically, writing separate comments in response to the student’s performance in each area that has been targeted in the assignment. Whatever approach you take, be sure to cite the language of these outcomes (especially ones you have targeted in your assignments) when responding and evaluating. This way, you reinforce and circulate the outcomes, keeping them active in students’ minds. Just as importantly, the course outcomes and traits give you a vocabulary you can use for responding to student writing.

The Course Outcomes are discussed extensively in Chapter 2, reprinted at the  at the beginning of Writer/Thinker/Maker, and also available on the PWR website.

Consider Using an Evaluation Rubric

The portfolio system can cause some grade anxiety for students since they do not receive a final grade on an assignment until the end of the quarter. While your formative written feedback on their writing is invaluable, students will likely also want to gauge how their writing will be evaluated prior to the portfolio. Adding rubrics to your assignments can be a fabulous way to accomplish this, especially if those rubrics align with your portfolio assessment. See the PWR 100-Level Portfolio Rubric to see the rubric breakdown for evaluating portfolios.

Grading scale: Grading scale categories can be a great way to signal how an assignment might be assessed. One way to do this is be trying to make it clear what is expected of this assignment if it were included in the portfolio. How will students know if it needs to be revised in order to count as a “complete” part of their compendium? If a student wanted to revise this to use it as a showcase piece in their portfolio, how would they know what to revise or rethink?

Assignment Criteria: The criteria you are evaluating in the rubric should match what is described in the rest of the prompt. Is having something follow MLA format asked for in the prompt or important for the assignment? If not, leave it off the rubric. Working to pare down rubrics can keep feedback from being too overwhelming and communicate to students what aspects of the assignment you’re most interested in. Relatedly, generating assignment criteria together with students can be an excellent exercise for collectively deciding upon what is most important in a given assignment.

Here is a sample rubric from a short summary assignment which attempts to communicate to students how their assignment might get taken up in the portfolio:

Meets Expectations Unevenly Meets Expectations Needs Revision
Does the paper give an appropriate amount of context for the text being summarized (e.g. author name, title, time of publication)? Looks good!
Is there an accurate paraphrase of the author’s main idea / argument? Your paraphrase currently says… However, the author also mentions…. How might you revise the paraphrase to capture this?
Does the summary give two pieces of evidence from the text of how the author makes their argument?  Your summary currently only draws on one piece of evidence. In order for this assignment to be considered a “complete” part of your portfolio, you will need to bring in a second piece of evidence from the text. Try looking at the section of the essay where the author discusses…

For information on how to build rubrics into your assignments on Canvas see this video made by PWR instructors Missy González-Garduño and Angel Garduño (Note: this video includes a wonderful follow-up discussion of an Equity-Based Assessment workshop run by Anselma Prihandita and Gin Schwarz. The logistics of building a Canvas rubric start around minute 15): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hDyPxojGco

Respond Specifically in the Context of the Assignment

The comment: “Nice job with intertextual connections between Aladdin and The Fox and the Hound in para. 3—this really shows an engagement with Lippi-Green’s idea of bias toward a Southern dialect” is better than “Nice job with Lippi-Green.” It is not as simple as “more is better,” but it is worth keeping in mind both the amount of specificity you offer your students and the example that you set for your students’ own work as peer responders.

Different Drafts = Different Kinds of Responses (for different students)

Your responses to drafts will vary with the specific assignment, targeted outcomes, and the different stages in a sequence of assignments. In early assignments, for instance, you might focus more attention on the inventiveness of the thinking, on violations of the known-new contract, or on problems in focusing or framing an argument. Nearer to the end of a sequence, you may find that you’re spending more time on support and development issues; and, in the final stages, you may concentrate more on stylistics. Remember that each draft is different, and also remember that your students will be at different places in their writing processes. There is no rule that says your commenting has to be homogenous from assignment to assignment, or from student to student. For more information about how to tailor your feedback with your pedagogical values as an instructor especially from a social justice standpoint, please refer to the pathways outlined in the PWR Statement on Linguistic Difference and the Teaching and Assessment of Writing Across Difference  in Chapter 6. You will also find helpful suggestions for dealing with grammar issues in your students’ work more broadly.

Recognizing Strengths

Let your students know when you recognize they’ve done something well, without evaluating or making suggestions. If something strikes you as elegantly presented or as a nice example of some element of writing you’ve been discussing in class, don’t hesitate to make a note saying so, or even better, use it as an example in class (be sure to get permission; students hate surprises). It is generally worth the effort to pass through a draft again in order to find something positive (as recommended by Donald Daiker). Also, be honest with students about how you tend to respond; if your “constructive” comments tend to outweigh your positive ones no matter what you do, be direct with them about this in class (or, if appropriate, try to adjust your style).

Give Equal Time and Energy to Every Student’s Assignment

It is difficult not to spend more time on the drafts of students whose work has been consistently well written, or on drafts by students who we like or who contribute productively to class discussions. But it’s important to give equal time and effort to every student—even if that means taking extra time to find specific positive things to say on an outstanding draft or deciding not to comment on the clichéd conclusion because you’ve spent time commenting on the unsuccessful organizational choices in a poorly written paper. That said, if a student has clearly not fulfilled the assignment, there is no reason to respond as though he or she has; you should feel free to return the assignment with minimal comments and explain that in order for you to give feedback, the student must revise their submission according to the guidelines and outcomes described in the prompt.

You might also consider that if the student really does require extra feedback, you can ask that they come see you during office hours to talk about their paper (more on this below). And, if a student’s draft is significantly late, depending on the course expectations you have set up, you can skip written feedback and require them to come in to office hours to receive feedback—your time is valuable, and feedbacking can drag on if assignments take time to come in (it is also hard for students to take time to revise if they don’t have time to mull on it).

Ask Questions (instead of giving directions)

If you find yourself asking questions as you read (and you will), let the student know what they are. Questions—particularly those asking for clarification—identify problem areas (both general and specific), and as students respond to them, they can be led where they need to go in their argument, without your having prescribed or dictated that they go there. In addition, questions that suggest implications and extensions of the student’s argument can indicate the extent to which the student’s work has produced engagement on the part of you, the reader.

Approach Each Draft as a Draft

The assignments your students submit throughout the quarter are, after all, drafts; your students will have a chance to revise their work for their portfolio, so when you comment, keep this in mind. You might write something like, “If you choose to revise this assignment for the final portfolio, think about…” 

Tie Your Comments to Class Discussions

You may want to re-present some elements of the student’s writing using some of the terms you’ve established in class: “I like the way you present your controlling idea about education and indoctrination in the opening paragraph, and then move on to your supporting statements about your experience here at the UW. You wait until you’ve fully presented your position before considering counterarguments.” Or you may refer specifically to something that went on in class: “Remember what Joanne said about Ron’s paper—a little humor goes a long way.” (This kind of commenting also comes in very handy as a reminder that it is a good and necessary thing to attend class.)

Remember, Focus on What You’ve Done So Far

Having spent time pouring over the criteria and going over it with the class, it may be tempting to respond to everything in every assignment. Though this is a bad idea for time reasons (as discussed before), you also want to remember that there is no point to writing “weak transition” if you haven’t discussed transitions; the comment will not mean much to the student. Of course, when it comes time for the portfolio, the student will need to take all the criteria into account, but it will be their job to return to that first paper, where you hadn’t yet done transitions, and figure out what needs work.

End Comments v. Marginal Comments

Generally, try to spend more time on end comments than on marginal comments, as end commentary is written as a response to the entire essay and is likely to contain your more important thoughts and reactions, especially overall suggestions for revision. Marginal comments are likely to be more fragmented and seen by students as “fix-it” items. However, for some instructors, end comments tend to be blasé, so decide for yourself how you want to balance between them. We suggest that you avoid marking repeated mistakes: it’s usually better to identify the problem in an end-comment and leave it to the student to identify and “fix” the problem.

Know When to Say “See Me”

Sometimes, a student will submit a draft that is so far “off” or confusing that you don’t know where to start; often, in these cases, you’ll uncharacteristically stare at the page for several minutes thinking “where do I begin?” Sometimes, the appropriate move can be to write a small note asking the student to come see you. In writing, you may leave the student with a predominantly negative response (and one that cannot take into consideration valid but unanticipated reasons students might have for “missing the point” of an assignment). But in person, you are more likely to understand the student’s point-of-view and successfully articulate your own. It’s best to get the student’s take on how he/she did/did not meet the assignment first, in order to gauge your response appropriately. Lastly, “see me” has the same stigma as red pen: watch your phrasing, and consider writing something such as “please come see me in office hours soon so we can talk about your paper and brainstorm ways to refocus and strengthen it.” 

Coordinate Your Responses with Scheduled Conferences

At a few points in the quarter, you’ll likely be coordinating your responses on assignments with conferences; be sure to take advantage of this! As discussed elsewhere , the conferences are a great opportunity to talk to the student, and you’ll need to gauge how it changes your response strategy. You may find that you can write less and instead have the student write down ideas as you present them in conference (this also keeps them from spacing out in conference). You may also decide to use a response strategy or symbol that allows you to easily locate areas you want to discuss in conference (which you often think you’ll remember but won’t by your ninth conference in a row). Some students with different learning styles and preferences will appreciate the kind of feedback they receive in conferences. By the same token, keep in mind that certain students with learning and other disabilities may require you to write your comments, even if you plan to conference.

Consider Trying Different Modes of Feedback

Along with dialogic feedback in conferences, you may try out recording audio or video responses to papers to vary things up and make feedback more engaging. This may take longer depending on perfectionism, but many comment that it seems more fun and less impersonal. You also can print and write comments, which reduces screen fatigue, but it’s good to take pictures of comments so you can keep track.

Again, Use the Language of the Outcomes

Let the student know how s/he is doing: where you’re convinced by their argument, where you’re not, and why; what’s detracting from or adding to the overall quality of her/his piece, and why. Even (and in many cases especially) in portfolio courses, students will often be (quite justifiably) anxious about their eventual grades; you don’t need to assign a letter grade to communicate your evaluation of their performance on an assignment draft. Students are very savvy about translating the implications of adjectives, so, for example, if you mean “outstanding” don’t just write “good.”

 Explain Your Style

After a quarter or two (and after seeing your colleagues’ approaches), you’ll recognize your feedback “approach.” When you can identify what you tend to do, be honest with your students. They will respect you for this “meta-discussion” on feedback, and it will also give you a chance to admit your strengths and weaknesses, such as tending toward the negative, writing messily, ignoring conclusions in first drafts, etc.

 Make Sure Your Students Read Your Comments

Don’t assume that just because you’ve made a comment on a student’s draft that they know how to find those comments. We suggest, especially if you use Canvas’s SpeedGrader interface, that you take 10 minutes the first time you return an assignment to show students how they can actually see and interact with your feedback, both the end comments and marginal comments.

You also want to be sure that students understand how you want them to approach and interact with your comments. Explain to your students that because 131 assignments are constructed as a series of scaffolded sequences, they should expect to work toward incorporating your suggestions on each successive assignment—that while feedback may be specific to one assignment, there are composing moves that they can learn from and use in subsequent assignments to avoid repeating mistakes or unsuccessful choices. It will be frustrating to both you and your students if you make suggestions on how to make their claim more focused, but they don’t read this comment and repeat the same type of vague claim statement in their next assignment. One way to do this is to build in class time for students to read your comments (and for explaining how to access them, especially the marginal ones!). Some ideas for this include leaving a couple of minutes at the end or the beginning of class for them to gloss your comments and write a “Revision Plan;” having them email you a question or two about the comments you’ve given them on a draft; or having them keep a journal or log of comments/suggestions/things they should be working on in their writing throughout the quarter which you can also refer back to if shared with you on something like Google Docs (you can also maintain this log yourself, but this takes more of your time and removes some of the responsibility for this from students). These strategies will also help students with their critical reflection at the end of the quarter, where they will need to explain how they revised their work, and will help them become more critical readers of their own and their peers’ work.

 Understand Your Role

Considering what many of us find important in our studies, it is unsurprising that we often enter the classroom hoping to temper the power relationship between teacher and student; we understand we have authority but perhaps don’t want to flaunt it. In terms of responding, this can sometimes result in “wishy-washy” responses or a failure to recognize the authority you really do hold as an instructor, which can be understandably frustrating for your students, who recognize you as the person who will ultimately be assigning them a grade in the course. Be honest and clear, and recognize that you are not simply “another reader,” but at the same time, you are not a supreme arbiter of writing, either. Of course, it is also possible to be too authoritative, especially since your students will expect you to be, and this is something to be careful of as well and can be tempered by a stronger emphasis on peer review and positive response from you.

 Options for Responding

Though there are many different ways that you can respond to assignment drafts, outlined below are a few styles to consider:

  • Reader response mode: I’m confused here when you say _____; I thought you meant ______, but this next paragraph makes me think ________. Can you clarify for me? I like your image here; it reminds me of _____________. As a reader who (does/does not) know a lot about this particular topic, I found myself confused here.
  • Argument response: Your claim says ________, but your examples argue for __________. Can you help me understand how you think the examples support your claim? I think you skipped a step here—what I would expect here is _________, but maybe you’re saying something else. Which is it?
  • Peer responses: I noticed that your peer said ________ when you mentioned ____. I agree. Can you clarify for us? Your peer said that you needed additional sources and I see that you didn’t change any in your revision. I think your peers had the right idea.
  • Other resources: In class, we read __________, but I notice that you didn’t mention that article. Doesn’t it fit with your argument?
  • Reference language of assignment: You seem to be arguing _________, but the assignment asks that you consider these options, in addition to the basic claim. What else can you say about these options?
  • Returning to heuristics: Your peers and I found that we needed more detail for this example. How about a brainstorming list from the article you use listing all the occasions where your point is mentioned?
  • Recommending further reading: Another source on our recommended reading list was________. I think it might be useful for you to consider for your final version.

Further Reading


Daiker, Donald A. “Learning to Praise.” Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research. Ed. Chris M. Anson. Urbana: NCTE, 1989.

Elbow, Peter. “Writing Assessment: Do It Better, Do It Less.” Assessment of Writing: Politics, Policies, Practices. Eds. Edward M. White, William D. Lutz, and Sandra Kamusikiri. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1996.

Farr, Marcia. “Response: Awareness of Diversity.” Assessment of Writing: Politics, Policies, Practices. Eds. Edward M. White, William D. Lutz, and Sandra Kamusikiri. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1996.

Ferris, Dana R. Response to Student Writing: Implications for Second Language Students. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.

Responding to Student Writing, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies of Writing, University of Minnesota: http://cisw.cla.umn.edu/faculty/responding/index.htm

Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication 33.2 (1982): 148-156.

Straub, Richard. The Practice of Response: Strategies for Commenting on Student Writing. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 2000.

 Evaluative Criteria

Berlin, James. “Poststructuralism, Cultural Studies, and the Composition Classroom: Postmodern Theory in Practice.” Professing the New Rhetorics: A Sourcebook. Eds. Theresa Enos and Stuart Brown. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1994.



This section is designed to help you develop flexible strategies for dealing with ideologically troubling papers, which can feel very uncomfortable, and even violent, to encounter and engage with. Such student papers might contain perspectives that deeply conflict with your own or might contain what you understand as sexist, racist, or otherwise discriminatory or problematic discourse.

First and foremost, it is important to recognize that it is not always clear how (or whether) to respond to such perspectives that appear in student papers (or comments in class for that matter). Your response to any given paper will be a negotiation affected by many factors, including your own teaching philosophy and commitments, your identity and comfort level with the student, your sense of the intentionality or seriousness of the ideas you encounter, the dynamics and context specific to your class in any given quarter, and so on. While our responses will differ, one of our goals is to help all of our students make effective arguments and to become more responsive to and responsible for the consequence arguments have (their own and others’) within diverse communities and contexts.

Secondly, we urge you to remember that students may be encountering new ideas that might deeply challenge perspectives they hold. In some cases, students using troubling discourse may not be fully aware of the impact and effects of their argument. In such cases, helping students better understand the consequences of various arguments and ideas (which is one of the aims of Outcome 3) and being open to listening to their reasoning can open productive space for dialogue, learning, and trust. While not always possible, such a space can become an opportunity for students to challenge their own thinking and gain a deeper understanding of and responsibility for the serious consequences of language in the world.

Finally, and just as important, it’s crucially important for us to acknowledge and recognize the emotional and intellectual labor that goes into reading and responding to such papers—it can be a deeply taxing, stressful, and isolating experience. After all, while it’s true that your students are demonstrating vulnerability in submitting their works and opening themselves up for critique, teaching, too, can be a deeply vulnerable act—especially if you’re a first-time teacher. Please reach out to us and to your peers if you encounter anything in student papers (or class interactions) that is worrisome. We are here to listen and to help you troubleshoot, offer strategies, and address any safety concerns.

Below, we offer a list of methods and strategies that former PWR Assistant Director Belle Kim has used in the past to respond to two challenging papers. The first (Student A) condemns #BlackLivesMatter and the tactics the movement has used to further their cause to argue that they have brought police brutality and racial policing upon themselves by being disruptive and making themselves ready targets; the second (Student B) claims that racial discrimination results from cultural difference and immigrants’ inability to assimilate successfully into the US; the third (Student C) argues that Syrian refugees should not be admitted into European countries because they are more likely to be terrorists and criminals, cause political strife, and cannot offer anything to their host country to offset the cost of their relocation. The instructor’s goal was to encourage her students to think more deeply about the issue at hand by using a variety of tactics to respond that sought to disrupt their assumptions and push against their line of argumentation.

In offering these examples, we hope that you can feel more supported and prepared to tackle such scenarios as they rise. 

Tips for Effectively Responding to Troubling Papers

Name and Question the Assumptions that Undergird Writers’ Claims

Explicitly naming the unstated beliefs and assumptions students hold that motivate their unsubstantiated claims is a crucial strategy that you can use to push against students’ arguments. In doing so, you can tell your student that an argumentative research paper emerging out of such an assumption is fundamentally unsound unless they can cite and analyze credible evidence or reference reliable (scholarly) secondary sources and research that can back up the assumption.

Example: Student A argues that #BlackLivesMatter is ineffective because “the justice system only target those who intentionally make an enemy of it—usually in the form of committing crimes” and the tactics of the movement (described as “relentless protests”) “makes an enemy of that system, thus inviting the targeting they wish to end.” In her response, the instructor names and questions his assumption that the justice system evenly targets and punishes only those who commit crimes: “Here, you’re making a lot of assumptions—that there is no racial bias within the police force, for instance (an assumption that scholars such as Angela Davis [discussed in class] and Michelle Alexander have specifically disputed); that all the unarmed black civilians who were killed by police were engaging in criminal acts at the time of their deaths, which hasn’t actually been the case; that there hasn’t been a history of racial violence against black Americans in the States, etc.—that you’d need to prove in order to be able to convince your readers of the interpretation you’re offering here.” Here, she pushes against his central argument by showing that it is built around a series of assumptions that cannot be proven with material evidence or analysis. 

Recommend Other Credible Scholarly Secondary Sources that Disrupt Their Assumptions

Another tactic that you can use is to suggest relevant and credible scholarly secondary sources whose core arguments disrupt the assumptions your students make in their paper. In doing so, you will be able to show that the arguments they are interested in making are actually part of a much larger ongoing (academic) conversation that includes multiple stakeholders and scholars with more expertise and knowledge. Your response to their work, then, cannot be read as just the proclivities of one individual; rather, it is situated in a larger context and conversation. Moreover, your recommendations can serve as additional guidance and direction that can help students think through the questions you pose throughout your reading of their paper. 

Refer Back to Course Texts and Discussions that Actively Work Against Their Claims

Referencing specific class discussions, lectures, and course texts can help remind students that they’re expected to engage with the shared knowledge you build with them in your classroom throughout the quarter in their individual writing. After all, building upon and expanding on the ideas of others is a critical part of thinking of writing as a conversation rather than as something that occurs in isolation. It also pushes students to grapple with compelling evidence and analysis that work against the very claims they’re making.

Example: In his paper, Student B argues that racial discrimination and the harassment of immigrants and people of color result not from white supremacy (which he argues has been “constantly altered and diminished”) but from cultural difference and the newcomers’ inability to assimilate effectively into the US: “The inequality that can be observed in the society, may [be found to be] the faults of the immigrants, since they share different culture, origin and ideas.” The instructor responds to the unsubstantiated assumptions he makes here by citing course texts and referencing relevant class discussions that work against his claims. Addressing his first point, she asks, “How might Lipsitz respond to such a claim given his argument that institutional and structural racism continue to very much organize US society and culture? Is white supremacy really diminished given the xenophobic/racist/nativist attitude of the Trump administration and the ongoing prevalence of social activism such as #BlackLivesMatter and #Not1MoreDeportation?” To the second, she writes, “Is what you’re trying to argue, then, that racial discrimination has existed solely because of cultural difference? How might such an argument run the risk of being reductive? Think back to Hing’s claim, for instance, that the cycles of acceptance and rejection that characterize US immigration policies were motivated by the desire for cheap, rootless, easily exploitable labor and capital on the one hand and racial prejudice and fear of economic competition on the other. How might his argument complicate your own?” With these comments, she reminds the student that she expects him to be drawing from and adding to conversations they have been having in class even if he had the freedom to choose which topic to write on for this paper. 

Use the Language of Stakes to Urge Students to Think Through the Ethical and Political Implications of Their Arguments

Ask your students about the urgencies and stakes motivating their argument—what are they writing about and why? Who is most affected by this issue? What are they trying to achieve by forwarding a specific argument? What is their argument and writing being mobilized toward—that is, for what end? What might be the material impact of their writing for those most affected by the argument they’re wanting to make and how have they taken this into account? In demanding that they think through such questions, you are reminding students that, at least within the parameters of your classroom, being a good writer means thinking carefully about the ethical and political implications of your arguments and being accountable critical writers.

Example 1: In response to Student A’s continuing critique of #BlackLivesMatter and assertion that “I look down upon those who take tactics such as those of BLM, and invite all who share a desire for a healthy future of discussion in America to join me,” the instructor asks, “What are the stakes of engaging in a project like this? That is, for what purpose are you launching and mobilizing this critique of the BLM movement? Compare this to the stakes and urgencies motivating the BLM movement—how do they compare? How might you take the latter into account more fully in your argument?” Here, she stresses that the student needs to think about both the stakes that inform his project and those of the movement he criticizes so it is clear he isn’t critiquing the BLM just for the sake of doing so.

 Example 2: Student C argues in his paper that “only by facing the negative effects refugees bring to Germany can German media and politicians realize how much damage refugees [have] done and new policies should be publish[ed] to properly control refugees.” Throughout his paper, he remains focused on narrating the “negative effects,” “damages,” and “harm” that Syrian refugees have brought to their host countries but neglects to examine the issue from the vantage point of those most affected by his argument—the refugees themselves. In response, the instructor writes, “Is it only the damages? What benefits have they brought? What are the conditions that have led these refugees to seek asylum in other countries? Note that these people are escaping a war-torn country (the political instability of which has been actively facilitated by European/US powers) and while it’s important to think about the costs/drawbacks, it’s equally important to think about what they’ve contributed, the specific traumas they’ve had to negotiate, and the ways in which various countries have been implicated in the making of the refugee crisis. To clearly establish the stakes of your project, then, you need to think more about who your argument affects and in what ways.” The instructor thus pushes the student to consider more carefully the perspective of those most directly and materially impacted by his assumptions about the cost of refugee relocation. 

Use the Language of “Resisting Binary Thinking” and “Counterarguments/ Concessions” to Push Them to Consider Questions and Perspectives They Haven’t Yet Considered

Remind students that an effective piece of writing does not shy away from complexities or contradictions; the most compelling and powerful arguments emerge not from cherry picking for only those pieces of evidence that backs up one’s claims but from pushing deeper, asking difficult questions, and engaging those perspectives they have discounted or neglected to take into account.

Example: Student A writes that #BlackLivesMatter, “instead of convincing the populace and political groups to ignore the members of the movement and the Black people…paints an even bigger target on it—one labeled this time ‘impulsive and violent’ rather than ‘inferior and irrelevant.’ In acting and speaking out so thoroughly and extravagantly…they also ensure they are treated differently as well, defeating the point of trying to end the differential treatment members of the Black people receive.” Here, the instructor offers in her margin comments a strong rebuttal to his argument that he’d need to address in order to be convincing to his readers: “How might you respond to a counterargument that says it was necessary for the BLM to explore different tactics because so many other approaches have been unsuccessful (as signaled by the ongoing devaluation of black lives)? Why might they have been calling for large-scale action to begin with? Doesn’t it also point to the difficulty of disrupting the status quo?” To push against the student’s assumptions that the only thing #BlackLivesMatter mobilizations have achieved is to make African Americans even more of a target, she asks, “Has this been the only outcome? What might have been gained? I think your argument would be strengthened by making some concessions and acknowledging that which the BLM has done well—doing so would lessen the risk of alienating your readers and engaging in binary thinking.” She thus tries to push the student to add more complexity and nuance to his argument by asking different questions than those currently motivating his writing. 

Ask Open-Ended Questions and Require Students to Respond to Them During Revisions

Ultimately, in dealing with papers like the ones discussed in this section, one of the best strategies you can use is to leave margin comments throughout that pose specific questions for the students to answer. The questions can ask for clarification, more evidence and in-depth analysis, a metacognitive reflection on the student’s purpose and agenda as writer, a discussion of the stakes and urgencies motivating the student’s paper, etc. You can then require your student to respond directly to these questions in writing, which will also necessitate that they engage in more research and reflection. Asking carefully thought-out (and phrased) questions thus allows you to offer guidance without simply leaving unaddressed the troubling content. While some of the tactics offered in this section may seem inadequate at best, keep in mind that they’re also a way for you to protect yourself against potential accusations that you’re a “biased,” “unprofessional,” “social justice warrior” who practices “reverse racism” and tries to “indoctrinate” her students.

Example: Student A argues that the Black Lives Matter activists’ interruption of Bernie Sanders’ speech is indicative of the “reckless aggressiveness” of the movement: “Sanders has publicly stated views that align with those of BLM…however, the protesters refused to acknowledge this; they denied offers of negotiation while insulting the audience, leading to jeers and profanities from the audience…It directly showed how a group of liberal activists—closely aligned with the movement itself and not opposed—were quickly made into enemies due to the methods of the protestors and the reckless aggressiveness they tend to employ.” For this student, the disruption is a compelling piece of supporting evidence that backs up his critique of the #BlackLivesMatter. The set of questions the instructor asks in response shows, however, that such an example can be interpreted and read in a very different way: “This is a useful example that helps advance your argument, but I think you could do an even more in-depth analysis of what took place: what do you think the BLM activists were trying to accomplish and point out by interrupting Bernie Sanders? What do the pejorative responses of the audience suggest about the BLM’s perception of the gap between white liberals’ presentation of themselves as “good allies” and their actual political practices?” Such questions demand that the student engage in a more thoughtful analysis that goes beyond his own personal opinion. 

Talk to your Student in Person

This is not always possible, but if you have more serious concerns, you might ask to talk with the student in your office or during a conversation. The experience of reading written comments is very different than a conversation where you can ask students why they made certain choices and you can listen and respond to the student. See Chapter 7  for more information on and strategies for conferencing with students.


Plagiarism is a complex concept that, depending on who you talk to, can encompass everything from forgetting to apply quotation marks to copying an entire paper verbatim or from unintentionally patching a few words together from a passage to submitting a paper purchased online. Determining what is inappropriate textual borrowing (and how to respond) requires a situated, nuanced, and flexible case-by-case understanding and response. In many circles, plagiarism is treated as a serious offense and even a criminal act, so whatever your personal philosophy regarding the ownership of language and ideas, plagiarism is a topic that deserves explicit attention in our 131 class. 

Plagiarism: A closer look

At the broadest level, inappropriate textual borrowing can be divided into two rough categories. In the first category, there are borrowings based on misunderstandings, inexperience, and cultural differences. Examples of this category could include paraphrasing without enough change, having a friend write portions of a paper, and even copying whole paragraphs directly from an unmentioned source. The vast majority of “plagiarism” that you will experience in 131 will be of this variety, and this kind of inappropriate borrowing generally deserves a pedagogical response. The rules for citation are hardly intuitive or transparent, and many of our students will be learning the expectations of the Western academy for the first time. It is our job as 131 instructors to coach our students through the vagaries of citation practice.

While the second category is rarer, you may also experience an instance where a student is being deliberately dishonest. After spending hours and hours pouring your heart and soul into constructive feedback, painstakingly tailored to each student’s interests and needs, the sense of betrayal upon finding that a student has not submitted their own work can be intense. Even in such situations, however, we encourage you to not take such instances personally, but rather take a moment to evaluate the situation. What forces might have compelled a student to make such a decision? How might you go about explaining the situation to the student in question? What is the most reasonable response to such cases within the context of your class? What are the ethical and pedagogical consequences of allowing the student to re-write the assignment? What are the ethical and pedagogical consequences of officially reporting the student to the University? Before taking any action or confronting the student, we strongly encourage you to consider such questions, and also to discuss the situation with the PWR Director, especially if this is the first time you are handling a case of plagiarism. 

First step- Establish clear guidelines regarding plagiarism

Before your class even begins, you can help prevent many unintentional plagiarism cases from ever arising. As you design your syllabus, assignment sequences, and lesson plans, make sure that students understand early on what plagiarism means in your class and how you will respond to it. There is a standard UW policy on plagiarism available on the PWR website and it, or a more contextually appropriate one of your own devising, should be included on your syllabus. Make sure that you also give yourself the time to explain your policies verbally early in the quarter. Whatever your own take on plagiarism, it is important that your students understand that the University, as a whole, considers it a serious offense which could even result in expulsion. See the standard UW syllabus language on Academic Honesty below from this website (https://registrar.washington.edu/curriculum/syllabus-guidelines/#lang):

The University takes academic integrity very seriously. Behaving with integrity is part of our responsibility to our shared learning community. If you’re uncertain about if something is academic misconduct, ask me. I am willing to discuss questions you might have.

Acts of academic misconduct may include but are not limited to:

  • Cheating (working collaboratively on quizzes/exams and discussion submissions, sharing answers, and previewing quizzes/exams)
  • Plagiarism (representing the work of others as your own without giving appropriate credit to the original author(s))
  • Unauthorized collaboration (working with each other on assignments)

Concerns about these or other behaviors prohibited by the Student Conduct Code will be referred for investigation and adjudication by (include information for specific campus office).

Students found to have engaged in academic misconduct may receive a zero on the assignment (or other possible outcome).

You should take the time to educate your students on what could be considered plagiarism at UW, particularly things that may not seem dishonest to many students (e.g., turning in the same paper for two different classes or turning in previously written work).

Discuss the Evolving Complexity of Plagiarism

With the fast-progressing advent of ChatGPT and other writing technologies, we are entering a new era of potential plagiaristic practices that are difficult to detect or judge, and which raise new ethical considerations around writing. Consider establishing rules with AI usage with your students. You may employ discussion with them to establish together where the (shifting) ethical line of honesty is and how AI might be used thoughtfully (or not) instead of only being the mistrusting tech police. How might students acknowledge use of AI as a tool, and how might instructors use the advent of AI as an opportunity to design more local, creative, and innovative assignments that don’t just rehash standard information like a computer?

As always, feel free to talk to any member of the PWR admin team about concerning papers—often, what seems like “robotic” or “unnatural” writing may be students just trying to sound formal or writing from a different cultural background, but we recognize that even with giving students the benefit of the doubt, assignments may still appear to involve very little student input in this new AI age, and we’re happy to discuss strategies for assignment response and design in reaction to this. 

Design your course to reduce students’ anxieties and to encourage unique compositions

You are encouraged to make full use of the example assignment sequences on the PWR website and in the PWR archive. As you do so, however, it is important to consider how well your sequences scaffold students’ unique responses. Prompts that encourage students to make use of their unique set of talents and interests will increase student investment, reduce the temptation among students to make questionable textual borrowing choices and, perhaps most importantly, will improve your chances of staying sane as you read dozens of papers week-in and week-out.

It is also worth noting that some students are tempted to plagiarize because they feel their own work will not be successful, or because they have run out of time to complete an assignment and they panic. If you create room for students to ask questions about your assignments, discuss time management issues, and let students know that you understand that writing is a difficult process, you may be able to cut down on plagiarism. Some instructors find it helpful to explain to students that it’s much better for them to ask for an extension at the last minute than resort to plagiarism. Moreover, it may help to remind students that the portfolio system allows space for students to do their best along the way without penalty to their grades and provides room for revision of self-curated course projects for the final portfolio.

When Pedagogical Responses Fail…

If you do find yourself in a situation in which you feel your student has plagiarized, your first step should be to contact the PWR Director to explain the situation and get advice, as there are many things to keep in mind and ways for you to respond. In the PWR, we do not uphold a mandatory policy of reporting plagiarism cases to the Office of Student Affairs, but we do ask instructors to discuss all plagiarism cases (or suspected cases) with students, and we insist that no plagiarized projects can be included in the final portfolio. Our general approach is to begin by listening to students with compassion and patience, rather than start with an approach that sees all cases of plagiarism as cheating and deserving of a strict penalty. We ask that all instructors seek consultation with the Director of the PWR when they encounter plagiarism cases for the first time (and whenever they would like additional support thereafter) prior to confronting students. In most cases, instructors resolve matters with their students without formal reporting to the University. 

Please keep in mind that it is university policy that teachers cannot independently fail a student or take disciplinary action for plagiarism or cheating without formal due process.

If you decide, after consulting with the PWR Director, to individually handle an instance of plagiarism, the student in question will need to waive their due process before you can exercise any penalties, including simply asking them to rewrite a paper.

If the case is reported to the University, you cannot assess a penalty (or final course grade if the case occurs at the portfolio stage) until the college committee has adjudicated the case. The committee will ask the student to present his/her case against the case you have made, and then render a decision. If the plagiarism is confirmed, then you can assess a penalty, which can vary and the PWR Director can help you determine. At minimum, the student will need to rewrite the passages or papers that are plagiarized for the portfolio. If reported, the typical first ruling marks the violation of the Student Code on the student’s permanent record. A second violation usually means expulsion. 

UW Resources on Plagiarism

For information detailing the rights that both you and your students have when faced with plagiarism as a disciplinary issue, see the Community Standards and Student Conduct (CSSC) website (https://www.washington.edu/cssc/facultystaff/academic-misconduct/). The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) also features helpful advice on AI usage, effectively dealing with suspected misconduct, and grading (https://teaching.washington.edu/course-design/chatgpt/). 

Further Reading

Bennett, Karen. “The Geopolitics of Academic Plagiarism.” Publishing research in English as an additional language: Practices, pathways and potentials, edited by Margaret Cargill and Sally Burgess, University of Adelaide Press, 2017, 209-220.

Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, UIUC. “Artificial Intelligence Implications in Teaching and Learning.” Champaign, IL, 2023.

Evering, Lea Calvert, and Gary Moorman. “Rethinking Plagiarism in the Digital Age.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 56(1), 2012, pp. 35–44.

MLA-CCCC Joint Task Force on Writing and AI, “MLA-CCCC Joint Task Force on Writing and AI Working Paper: Overview of the Issues, Statement of Principles, and Recommendations,” July 2023.

Pennycook, Alastair. “Borrowing Others’ Words: Text, Ownership, Memory, and Plagiarism.” TESOL Quarterly, 30(2), 1996, 201-230.

Robin, Corey. “How ChatGPT Changed My Plans for the Fall,” July 30, 2023.


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2023 English 131 Instructors Manual Copyright © 2022 by kersch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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