In my next-to-last post, I wrote “This is also making me think I have to do more to encourage my students with their writing. I try to do this, of course; but it’s so easy to point out problems, and harder to cheer them on, especially when cheering results in questions like ‘if I’m doing so well, why is this a C?’ How do you come up with encouraging comments that don’t imply you give A’s for effort?”

Maybe I should divide my classes into small groups that are supposed to be writing groups, and give them the rules that my RL group uses (first round is clarification questions, second round is saying something you liked about the piece, third round is answering the writer’s own questions), and get them to do the encouraging. Or let them form their own groups. Or just have them use the groups to set goals and comment on what helped them to meet their goals and where they had problems. This could be done online, via Blackboard say, so I could keep an eye on things; or I could have them meet in class for a few minutes every few weeks.

I do not have “peer review” in mind. Just encouraging the act of writing, without getting into the A-for-effort trap.

This just occurred to me a few hours ago, so I haven’t really thought through how it might work and what the pitfalls could be. Any thoughts from my Gentle Readers?


7 thoughts on “A teaching thought

  1. I think this would be great, if you could work on getting students to be supportive and not tear things to pieces. I say this because we started a PhD writing group in the department, which was then largely abandoned because of one individual who always showed up to totally slam any work which was not his, ask why his pet-theory had not been applied, and then take great offence if one did not lavishly praise his work. Not sure how one would eliminate that out of a class – but setting some firm guidelines on tone and tact could be a start.

  2. I'll be interested to see how this discussion moves along. I've used peer review many times but find it almost useless. My students are too nice to point out all but the worst flaws in a paper and, even then, they do it in such a muted voice that the writer rarely catches the critique.Learning how to critique AND encourage is a tough proposition! Perhaps carrying it out in a step-by-step manner with templates would be an answer, though! I'm bookmarking the site that Sulpicia suggested for later review.

  3. Well, my point is this: I want to be the one who critiques, and I want to outsource the encouragement to the students. All they have to do is encourage each other. I have no interest in teaching them how to do peer review, the efficacy of which I doubt (unless the process is really carefully taught, which I'm not in a position to do). But is it even helpful to be encouraged/supported by peers before you've started to think of yourself as a writer in the same way that advanced grads and professors think of ourselves as writers? Do undergraduates grasp the usefulness of such support?

  4. How about a revised template (what they thought was done well, ideas that were interesting and could be developed further, things they liked about the style, etc.)? I think the undergraduates would grasp the usefulness of that kind of support as they experienced its effects, but probably wouldn't see it from the off – if they're encouraged to practice the way we do, it will change the way they behave as writers. Or possibly I'm just being idealistic…

  5. I'd be wary of completely outsourcing the encouragement factor – but I do like sulpicia's revised template for student peer feedback! There's not really any replacement for mentor-encouragement, though.I've found that my students respond well to my admittedly harsh feedback when I framed it – both on their essays and in class discussion as 'what you need to do to go up one bracket on your next assessment'. Not what you need to do to get an A – because i made it clear to them all that the top students were _also_ getting their work torn apart by me – but what you need to do better next time.I balanced that out by showing them some of my own undergrad work, marked up by my teacher, and talking about how I used that feedback to edit the essay in question into something which won a prize. Locating their writing difficulties in a spectrum which also contains my work and the prof's work and the things they're reading for research seems to help change the way they view critical feedback.Of course, I'm teaching a specialist class, not a comp class, which probably has something to do with the way they respond, too.

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