I spend a large part of my time responding to written assignments of all sorts in all of my classes. I'm guessing most academics do, no matter what we teach.
What I'm looking for is strategies that will help me respond more usefully overall, while spending less time writing respones. Part of that means targeting my responses at the more engaged students, and spending less time responding in depth to minimally engaged students.
I often feel as if I'm writing responses to justify the low grades essays earn; instead, I want to write responses aimed more fully at helping students do solid revision work and do better on future assignments.
I know from studying composition research that marking up lots of grammar or proofreading problems doesn't help most students, so I generally put a tic in the margin, and a note to come talk to me about this grammar issue. The benefit is that I can usually explain the grammar issue in a few minutes, and the student may actually learn something (if I write an explanation, most students won't really read or work through it) because they've chosen to come to learn, and so are ready at that moment. Then you also have the benefit of one on one communication, which is important both to teaching and my own job happiness.
I've started taking to making bulleted lists on the work of students who are most minimally engaged. Usually the lists start with the need to address the assignment, lack of a thesis, and so forth.
Happily, the vast majority of my students are relatively engaged and interested in their studies, and do try to write a good assignment.
What are the most helpful responding strategies you've found?
What are the most helpful responses you've received for your own writing? Is there a way to transfer that sort of helpfulness to my students' work?
(The single most helpful response I've received from a professor came from a professor who let me turn in a dissertation chapter for a pretty unrelated seminar. It was helpful because she was able to help me visualize the overall structure of the chapter argument and rethink it totally, which made the whole chapter stronger. She may have been genius [well, yes], but I'm guessing it took her a couple hours. Admittedly, the chapter was 30 some pages, and I was a pretty engaged student. So I hope I was worth her effort and repaid it with my own in class.)