Directive Commentary


Until about fifteen years ago, directive commentary was generally the exclusive and accepted approach to addressing problems in student writing (Straub 223). Highly critical and controlling, the teacher assumes the role of the authoritarian or judge and tells the student what must be fixed, most often with imperative statements. Circling or underlining errors and the insertion of corrections are abundant. Another hallmark of directive commentary is the "rubber stamp": a short and generic statement, or frequently an abbreviation of one word, that is placed near the error (Sommers 148). Two common rubber stamps are "unclear" and "word choice". To save even more time, a professor simply may write UNC or WC. These comments can easily be removed and placed in another student's text of a different topic. Directive commentary taken to the extreme gives little concern to the content of the writing and the student's own thoughts and ideas, as evident in the commentary on a paper of a first-year college student who expresses her opposition to the legalization of drugs. Her teacher assumes the role of an editor and freely marks up the student's text, almost every sentence. Some comments are highly imperative in tone, almost to the point of being offensive. As a note to the writer's introduction to a main point that reads, "My only and most important argument...", the teacher writes, "Stay out of it--make it to 3rd person." Although the teacher has a valid rhetorical point in that the first person voice may be too informal for a persuasive essay, the point is masked by the critical and condescending tone and causes the point to go unnoticed by the average student.

Even though the errors in student writing may be legitimate, directive commentary does not help students learn from their errors. First, teachers correct many mistakes for the student. Commas placed incorrectly are crossed out and put in their proper places, leaving students confused about what was wrong with the placement in the beginning. Second, brief comments are not explicative enough to inform writers of the reason for their teacher's corrections. Unclear paragraphs are bracketed and annotated with the rubber stamp UNC. Writers may not realize why their teacher is confused by the paragraph. She doesn't tell the student the point in the paragraph that caused her confusion, nor does explain what she thinks the student is trying to say to guide him in stating his ideas more clearly. When the student sits down to rewrite the paper, he sees the rubber stamp, shrugs, and finds another way to restructure the paragraph because his teacher says it must be fixed.



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