I had planned to email back a set of essays, show an example essay, then have the students set goals for themselves for future essays. On the day I was to do this all, I ended up only having time to give back the essays. Two days later, I ended up with some time, and I had them open their essays again and reread my comments. This was really effective because they already knew their grades so were now reading the comments without that pressure in their minds. We then read together an essay one student in the class had written. Since they had just looked again at their own essay, they ended up talking spontaneously about what they liked in the example essay and how they had not thought about doing that in their own essay. When I told them that I wanted them to now set goals for themselves of things they wanted to try in their writing based on my comments on their essays and/or what they saw this one student essay doing, they got down to work right away. Their goals were really thoughtful, but ultimately just reflecting on how they had written something and how someone else had tackled the same thing was a powerful moment.
I am going to work hard to remember what I learned most from this -- separating writing reflection from the grade is crucial. I try to do this by emailing back the writing with my comments before I give them the rubrics with their grades, but their minds are still on, "What did I get?" Returning to the writing after the grade has been known and passed on in their minds was an even better method that running out of time taught me.