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Reframing attitudes toward student work Teaching Writing as a Process
Familiar refrains • “Why can’t these #&*@% students just write one #&*@% correct sentence?” • “I had three instances of plagiarism on my last essay.” • “Look at this ridiculous/hilarious/bizarre/depressing thing my student wrote!”
I started to ask myself • “Why can’t these #&*@% students just write one #&*@% correct sentence?” • “I had three instances of plagiarism on my last essay.” • “Look at this ridiculous/hilarious/bizarre/depressing thing my student wrote!” • How can I design assignments better so that my students write their best sentences/don’t feel compelled to plagiarize/produce work they can show off rather than work I can make fun of? • How can I teach students to write in a manner that is consistent with my own writing practices?
David Bartholomae, “The Study of Error”: • “[English teachers] have not read as we have been trained to read, with a particular interest in the way an individual style confronts and violates convention. We have read, rather, as policemen, examiners, gate-keepers. The teacher who is unable to make sense of out a seemingly bizarre piece of student writing is often the same teacher who can give an elaborate explanation of the ‘meaning’ of a story by Donald Barthelme or a poem by e.e. cummings. If we learn to treat the language of basic writing as language and assume, as we do when writers violate our expectations in more conventional ways, that the unconventional features in the writing are evidence of intention and that they are, therefore, meaningful, then we can chart systematic choices, individual strategies, and characteristic processes of thought” (255).
David Bartholomae, “The Study of Error”: • “By charting an analyzing a writer’s errors, we can begin in our instruction with what a writer does, rather than with what he fails to do.” • Even the weakest English students will do way more right on their papers than they will do wrong • Our students can write. They communicate in writing all the time. It’s when they have to write about concepts they don’t understand, and have the pressure of writing nine different things for nine different classes in a week that they put forward work that is not demonstrative of their best.
Reading student work • Think of how differently you read a student’s essay vs. how you would read a draft of an essay for a colleague • For colleague: you’d make global comments about content, offer suggestions, talk about what you liked, offer constructive criticism • For a student: You may circle every grammatical error, and focus on what the student does wrong • We want our students to feel like they’re integral parts of a network of thinkers • But in our comments, we often find ourselves justifying why marks were taken off. This seems antithetical to our goals
Mike Rose, “The Language of Exclusion” • “Mina Shaughnessy got us to see that even the most error-ridden prose arises from the confrontation of the inexperienced student writers with the complex linguistic and rhetorical expectations of the academy. She reminded us that to properly teach writing to such students is to understand ‘the intelligence of their mistakes.’ She told us to interpret errors rather than circle them, and to guide these students, gradually and with wisdom, to be more capable participants within the world of these conventions” (357-358)
But • Okay, students’ mistakes are intelligent mistakes. But they’re still mistakes. How do you not take off grades for mistakes? • Don’t grade everything with the same criteria. Design some parts of the assignment to reward “mistakes” (aka, thinking/trying/taking chances)
Larry Weinstein, “Honoring Student THinking” • “The mind’s best work tends, if anything to be messier than normal. But students do not generally know these things” (25). • “We need to honor the student as a thinker—to affirm her membership in the same species that includes all the experts” (26). • Here’s where process work/revision/drafting/scaffolding comes in
Nancy Sommers, “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and experienced adult writers” • “It is a sense of writing as discovery—a repeated process of beginning over again, starting out new—that…students [fail] to have” (387).
Elliot H. Shapiro, “Why I don’t grade papers” • “I would like my students to think about writing as a process through which they discover ideas and communicate them to other people…It is hard to discover, to explore, to take risks, if the goal of your paper is to receive a grade” (3). • “I believe my students have ideas to communicate, ideas which are worthy of interest, ideas which may teach me something, ideas which they can probably communicate more effectively if they are encouraged to work at it” (3-4). • “For me, thinking of what I do as ‘reading’ rather than ‘grading’ or ‘correcting’ makes what I do infinitely more pleasant” (4). • “I want [students] to feel free to experiment, to take risks, to make mistakes, to write for the sake of writing” (5).
John c. bean, Engaging ideas, chapter 7: “informal, exploratory writing activities” • “Try to incorporate students’ exploratory writing directly into the texture of your course” (124). • “Because exploratory writing is generally done without concern for organization, sentence structure, spelling, or mechanics, some instructors feel that this kind of writing simply encourages students to practice all the bad habits they already have…This objection…seems based on a faulty analogy between writing and some sphere of human behavior where sloppiness is a moral error…rather than a developmental stage in a process…Exploratory writing is messy because thought is messy” (124-125). • Students can be “rewarded for the process of thinking, rather than [just] for the end product itself” (127). • “The instructor…needs only to read the formal paper; he or she can give ‘process credit’ to the student simply for doing the [exploratory] tasks” (139).
First Essay process for 102 class • In class: • Brainstorming: 1 hour • Rough draft: 4 hours • Responding to corrected rough draft: 1 hour • Lab revision session: 2 hours • Total class time spend working on Brainstorming/drafting/revising 8+ hours + The opportunity to see me in my office with rough draft + They had to complete the final draft at home (around 4 hours)
Observations/Feedback I’ve gotten from students • Takes away the fear of making mistakes • Students are scared to write. Many suffer from a lack of confidence (“I’m not a good writer,” “I’m not good at English”) • This process allows them to get useful feedback early in the process. • This mimics my own process for writing • I can read the early parts of the process very quickly, and offer useful, constructive feedback. • By not worrying about grammar early in the process, and putting the onus on the student to hand in something that is polished, I find the grammar on the final drafts is much, much better. • When students have confidence in what they are writing, a lot of the grammar takes care of itself.
Contemporary American fiction, essay #1 • Brainstorm/1st draft/revision = 10% • Final draft = 15% • Total 25% • I feel like I can be more demanding on final drafts, because • A) I’ve given them so much class time and effort to improve their drafts • B) If they’ve done all the process work, the grade for their essay as a whole can be substantially higher than the grade for their final drafts • C) If students do the work, they get very good grades • D) If a students get bad grades, it’s almost certainly because they did not work hard enough
George saunders • “To me, the process of writing is just reading what I've written and—like running your hand over one of those mod glass stovetops to find where the heat is—looking for where the energy is in the prose, then going in the direction of that. It's an exercise in being open to whatever is there.”