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Reading writing about writing

First up on yr. obt. svt.'s summer reading list is Key Works on Teacher Response: An Anthology, which is a collection of essays and formal studies about how to teach writing. A few excerpts:

• "There is scant evidence that students routinely use comments on one draft to make rhetorically important, and in the end qualitatively superior, changes in a subsequent draft, although students will make limited, usually superficial corrections in order to comply with overt or tacit instructions."

"Of course, learners respond superficially to teacher comments, draft to draft, and of course they change little as writers, if at all, from one assignment to the next. That's why they're called learners." (Author's italics)

• "Behaviorist pedagogies, focused on measurable short-term results, are currently favored because, in an educational environment driven by an assessment ethos, they offer an illusion of learning through the achievement of artificial performance objectives that are reasonably susceptible to evaluation even though they have no compelling relationship to the development of writing ability (that is, one can avoid dangling participles, write topic sentences, and master essay formats while learning little or nothing about purposes, genre awareness, audience sensitivity, reasoning, political intelligence, ethical perceptiveness, register and tone, stylistic effects, or any of the subtleties characteristic of mature discourse."

• "Students need encouragement and rightly merit praise for things well done. Their continued improvement apparently comes from recognition of what they do well in addition to what they do not do so well. Certainly their confidence and pride in their efforts, and their enjoyment of writing, are enhanced by the teacher's assurance that they are beginning to master the skills required for good writing."

I enjoy this kind of reading. It reminds me that as a teacher, there is much room to improve: in my case, I need to bear down especially on the last bullet point. But that's one of the things that make teaching so interesting: the chance to do it better next class, next week, next month, next semester.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 16th, 2008 07:46 pm (UTC)
I agree with you on improving on the last bullet. I tried that this spring, and I think it worked. We'll see when I get the course evals back. :) However, I found that it was difficult to do when I had a student who simply cut and pasted from websites and called that reporting. In any case, I've actually experienced the receiving end of the encouraging words on some of my papers. It really does make a difference, which is another reason why I decided to try it.
May. 16th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
I thought you were going to comment on my using the word "pedagogies" on LJ.

Seriously, I think it takes a lot of work to come up with positive and constructive criticism. As a former copy editor, it's much easier for me to just begin "fixing," and much harder trying to teach a student how to not only "fix" the piece himself or herself, but also to do it better the next time.
May. 16th, 2008 09:00 pm (UTC)
As I student, I can honestly tell you that positive comments are just as important as constructive criticism. It's important for us to know what we did right along with what we did wrong.
May. 16th, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the feedback, Alex; I'm hoping to hear from students on this one.

As a teacher, I have a hard time figuring out where the line is between the right amount of criticism and too much. And when I grapple with that question, a second question surfaces: Can I not point out something that's wrong because I think I'm overloading the student, or am I doing the student a disservice by ignoring an error?

In Clare 110 last fall, I offered students an option: Get your papers back and address specific problem areas (which I identified) in the rewrite, or opt for the "Full Metal Jacket" marking mode, where I cite every error. By the end of the semester, most students were opting for the latter. But I really wonder if the latter method truly is effective, because I think the first method speaks more directly to a student's problem areas.

I can't help but think it's the first Friday after commencement, and I'm already calf-deep in this stuff. I need to get a life, or at least an alternative life for summers.
May. 16th, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
PJV, I prefer the "Full Metal Jacket" approach. But that's just the type of student I am - I like to know everything I did wrong, even the small things.

I think it's great that you offer students two different options; it'll cater to two different groups of students. At first, most students get too overwhelmed at the sight of red pen and want to just concentrate on improving the main things they did wrong. I think once students fix their large errors, they begin to embrace the "Full Metal Jacket" style.

And don't worry about being calf-deep in this stuff. I view the summer as a time of personal growth before returning to the ol' grind in August. I think we all take a step back, reflect on the year, and recognize the kinds of changes we want to implement in the future.
May. 17th, 2008 05:46 am (UTC)
I would be leery of taking writing advice from anyone who writes in the style of bullet three.
May. 17th, 2008 04:53 pm (UTC)
That's what passes for clarity compared to some of the other studies in that book.
May. 18th, 2008 02:27 am (UTC)
Ow, ow, ow...
I hit the third bullet and got a brain cramp. Everything after that read like a Charlie Brown grown-up muted trumpet voice in my head.
May. 18th, 2008 12:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Ow, ow, ow...
My colleagues always laugh when I use the word "pedagogy."
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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