Week 3

On the blog for Week 1, Kate raises a question that I imagine to be pressing for many of you as you get into your third week of teaching (even as your weeks are necessarily interrupted by the holidays)– so I hope we can address this question on the blog this week, along with any other observations and ideas you might have on your mind.

Kate begins with a quotation from Horner and company to concur with them that, “writers’ proficiency in a language will thus be measured not by their ability to produce an abstracted set of conventional forms. Rather, it will be shown by the range of practices they can draw on; their ability to use these creatively; and their ability to produce meaning out of a wide range of practices in their reading” (308). Kate uses that quotation to name the goals she sees for her students, and, consequently, for her as her their teacher. And that prompts her to observe that she is “craving specificity, methodology. What are examples of the things that make up this wide range of practices? Will I be able to discern them, do I need to, and if so what can I be doing, concretely, to get better at it?”

Our reading for this week is more practical than theoretical, although there is (as always) some theory implicit there. What specifics can you glean from this week to help you foster for your students a “range of practices they can draw on; their ability to use these creatively; and their ability to produce meaning out of a wide range of practices in their reading”? This is a sweeping question, I know.

As I think about it, I’m thinking also about a theme that has been running through our conversations so far. When we’ve had disagreement among us, it seems to cohere around the kinds and degrees of authority we think a teacher should exert in the class– which makes sense, because there is some paradox or tension here.

On one hand, we want all of our students to engage in processes of inquiry that are uniquely theirs; we want them to appreciate and use all of the knowledge and intelligence they bring to the classroom, including the kinds that have historically been neglected by the university. On the other hand, we want to bring our experience inside the university and this world, such as it is, to show our students how to make their voices heard, even by people who may not share our desire or ability to listen. That is, we want to make the university come to our students, but we also want to help them to come to the university.

So. How can you balance these competing impulses with the high/low-stakes assignments you assign, and with the comments you write on them? Of the readings we’ve done so far– by Bean, Berzsenyi, Haswell, or anyone else– where do you find insights (practical or theoretical) that help?

And, if you want to, you might also use your blog post for this week to share a specific pedagogical dilemma that has arisen for you since we met last. Where are you focusing your efforts to become the best teacher you can be, and where do you find support/guidance/insight in the readings we’ve done so far?

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16 Responses to Week 3

  1. Weiheng Sun says:

    Bean’s chapter about “Informal, Exploratory Writing Activities” helps me understand what’s going on behind the process of writing journals. I’ve been assigning journals for each class, mainly asking students to do “focused freewriting” in 15 minutes (200 words) before class (127). Some questions are open-ended, others are questions closely relating to the readings. The journals are only available to me. I agree with Bean on the values of exploratory writing, especially “They change the way students approach course readings”; “They create higher levels of class preparation and richer discussions”; “They help get to know my students better”; “They help me assess learning problems on the spot” (121-122). Writing journal is a great place to generate thoughts. The journal also helps me know better “the progress of student learning” (122) so that I can be aware of what to teach and discuss in the following class meeting.

    Haswell’s method gets students motivated and is especially helpful in cultivating students’ awareness in proofreading and editing. The minimal marking stretches students’ ability in finding mistakes of language mechanics and revising their papers, asking students to actively engage in the process of writing, instead of teachers marking up everything in an authoritative way. One concern is if the instructor makes a mistake, for example, there is no mistake, but the instructor marks a line on the side, then students may be confused and spend too much time thinking about it. But overall, I think it a great method to be used in class.

    I agree with Berzsenyi on her idea of “comments to comments,” but I think her execution may have been overdone. The idea of “comments to comments” introduces an effective dialogue between instructors and students, as we see in Haswell’s method. It invites students to participate in this academic conversation and considers writing as a process, as she says in the article that “teacher feedback should motivate students to revisit their texts with curiosity and involvement” (74). I think the method effective especially in the part when students disagree with instructor’s comments, which helps them clarify their goals and beware how to do it better. Also considering the readings on translingual, I think the method offers a valuable opportunity for students to defend themselves in their use of language and practice of composition and bring up an effective communication. But as I said before, Berzsenyi’s execution might have been overdone. Take the “Praise, Praise, Praise!” part as an example. The first instructor’s feedback is okay because the question she asked is exploratory. But the second and the third questions seem redundant to me: “Good topic sentence! Why are topic sentences important to paragraphs and essays?” “Great Title! Why are great titles important?” (85). I don’t think a college-level student would benefit much by answering these affected questions. The instructor is asking questions only to fulfil the task of “comments to comments,” and students have to spend time answering those. Consider another example in the Appendix A: “Instructor Comment: Great job setting up your paper’s main point and purpose with this story!” (90). This is not even a question. Berzsenyi says that she began to “write feedback that was inquisitive and interpretative rather than directive” (77). Although she frames her questions in an “inquisitive and interpretative” way, yet her attitude towards students is “directive.” By “directive,” I mean that she forces (it is graded!) her students to answer the questions that sometimes are no need for being answered. Furthermore, in the Appendix she asks her students “For clarity, [to] type [her] comment to which you are responding” (90). Considering the amount of time typing, I would prefer an oral discussion or doing something else more productive than that. To sum up, I think the idea is great and I would consider including “comments to comments” in my class, but not in her lengthy and complicated format.

  2. As a recent practice I encouraged my students to be proactive in terms of reading and comprehension. Instead of stumbling on difficult word—or more likely just pass them over—I told them to take action in finding out their meaning. To do this we took the first reading we analyzed in class, “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)” by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (from Chris Williams’ very nicely done template syllabus “Monstrous Discourse, Modern Culture”) and stopped at every difficult word. The reading was complicated for all (with Foucault and Derrida mentioned, how could it not be…). During class, I assigned every difficult word to one student and gave permission for all eighteen students to get out their cell phones and/or laptops/tablets and connect to the internet to look up those words. I even assigned Foucault and Derrida to two students. They seemed so surprised (and excited) to be able to connect to the internet in class that they eagerly looked up and wrote down definitions and information. Each student then read out loud what they wrote and we discussed the meanings and origins of the words and why and how Cohen used them. By breaking down these initially incomprehensible words (and many times even impossible to pronounce) they understood how each perplexing word can be viewed as a mystery to solve not a roadblock to reading and comprehension.
    As a “thinking practice” for their first essay I encouraged my students to use their own experiences and backgrounds to find a thesis connected to the “Monster Culture” topical essay that would stimulate them to write. I had them think about any of the ideas within the “Monster Culture” piece that interest them and see if they could possibly connect it to anything about their current lives or interests. The piece is rich in notions related to history, politics, geography, psychology etc. and touch upon the foundation of human life and society: race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability/disability and the systems of power associated to these. The students were excited to have such leeway to write about something they are passionate about (though I made it clear that their writings should be connected to the Monstrous Theme and Cohen’s article.) Giving my students a certain amount of latitude to engage them with the material is my way to show that I trust them and make their voices heard.

    In regards to this week’s readings, I found Haswell’s “Minimal Marking” article very useful and I think I’ll implement the checkmark-for-students-to-correct method it to see how well it works. I also found his Comenius citation to be insightful: “the more the teacher teaches, the less the student learns.” I believe that it really comes down to leading the students to discover the answers by themselves not giving them the answers (as if the teacher’s answer could be the only correct one).
    Berzsenyi’s “Comments to Comment” article also had specific ideas that I can use especially in the “A Teacher Learning to Let Go of Authority” subchapter. Being too directive is counterproductive but writing feedback that is “inquisitive and interpretative” (77) helps the students to think or rethink their papers critically. I think the main notion here is that a dialogue should always be available between teacher and student. Students should be allowed to voice their feelings and opinions about the teacher’s comments even if disagreeing. Also, praise is highly important as positive reinforcement (84) and the use of exclamation points when praising cannot be overstated, but perhaps emojis may be in order nowadays… It was interesting to read that the Comments to Comments didn’t feel terribly useful for Berzsenyi’s advanced writing students who felt that it was “like busy work” (86).
    I really liked Bean’s Chapter “Informal, Exploratory Writing Activities” because of the examples/exhibits of the what-and-how of exploratory writing. I also appreciated his differentiation that “exploratory writing is thesis-seeking, whereas exam writing is thesis-supporting” (125), and the freewriting example at the bottom of page 127 was fun to read! My favorites of his practices: writing at the start of class time “to probe a subject” (132), have the students correlate contemporary news/issues to the course (135), dialogue writing (136), Bio-poems (137), and the “thesis” statement writing” (141). His Exhibit 7.3 to use an issue for argument addressing using eight tasks is terrific because it basically gives a blueprint for students on how to do this just by answering his questions. I really enjoyed reading this chapter due to its pragmatism and I believe my students will like these approaches as well.

  3. Elaine Housseas says:

    To Alain, I think your in-class exercise for Cohen’s article is something I will incorporate into my own pedagogy and plans for this text. I could see how this would be a great way for students to interact with such a complex text that uses language and theory that most if not all of them have not encountered.
    I also found Haswell’s suggested approach to proofreading and editing very helpful. While I would not be able to use the checks method, I would like to use a proofreading activity in my class. As Haswell states, this may free up more space and time to discuss larger questions of writing and composition. Like Weiheng, I see the possibility of instructor error in using a checks method. I know there would be a large chance of me mismarking and checking the wrong line due to either eye fatigue or simple mistake. I plan to ask my students to proofread their assignments in class before they submit them. I don’t think I will mark them at first. In their first drafts, I noted a great deal of careless mistakes made due to lack of proofreading, which I believe my students would catch without my annotations. I will mark the remaining errors after the proofreading exercise. I feel they may find this more rewarding, having the opportunity to catch these errors on their own and without my guidance.
    I found Berzsenyi’s “comments to comments” activity particularly interesting. The question I keep asking myself is: when would I assign this activity? I believe she found it worked best in response to a formal draft, students finding it most rewarding when it was done previously to the submissions of their final graded drafts. I agree with this; however, she goes on to discuss how this assignment may give excess work, such as having to type up the instructor’s comments and the student’s responses. As much as I’d like all my students to perform this activity, I wonder if it should be optional rather than required. It could be given to students who plan on revising their final drafts for improved grades.
    I was very drawn to the definition of her commentary as “inquisitive and interpretive” rather than “directive” (77). I try to use this approach in my comments, hoping to draw a response from my students. I fully support an environment where my students can defend their writing. I encourage this kind of response in my classroom to the surprise of my students. I would like them to feel that their writings are opportunities for conversation and not compliance. The conference hours are very helpful in this regard. My students are much more responsive when I speak to them about their writing. Many of them have admitted to not reading my written comments. Maybe I can use a “comments-to-comments” in-class activity within the conference hour, keeping it informal but asking them to consider and/or challenge my comments in writing and in our discussion. Many of my students are unable to come to my office hours, and I guide them as best as I can via email. This is why I ask if this kind of activity could be incorporated into a group discussion or made into a group activity.

    • Hi Elaine, PS: I realized that Cohen’s essay is/was too difficult certainly as a first read for 110 students. I will definitely replace it with something easier next time around…

      • gfisk says:

        I’m noting this so that we remember to talk about it in class, because it can be a tough question, not only in this case: How difficult is “too difficult”?

        On one hand, we want students in ENG 110 to encounter a wide range of texts, so that they enter the Gen Ed curriculum prepared them for the variety of readings they’ll get. On the other hand, we don’t want to throw them into the deep end right away. We want to introduce them to texts that may seem very hard at first, and then show them how to meet that challenge– with methodological tools we can teach.

        That can be a hard balance to strike, though. When you notice a text that illustrates the difficulty, bring it in, and we can discuss it.

  4. Kate Bryant says:

    My thinking about teaching feels thus far like it’s always two-fold– theoretically optimistic and at a remove, and practically overwhelmed and changing moment-by-moment. I’m interested in the pedagogical theory we’ve read so far and the implications of the conversations we’ve been having about translingualism and how it relates to questions of authority in the classrom. It feels challenging but worthwhile to navigate that tension of bringing students and university to one another or more explicitly, to consider how to meet students as representatives of academia, which I think is a paraphrase of something that was said in our last class.

    But, one of my challenges is feeling like I have any academic authority to begin with. I never took a class in high school or as an undergraduate that gave me language to talk about writing, or language, at a granular level. I don’t remember learning how to write a paper; I was never asked to explain the choices I was making and I doubt I could have. This is another way of saying that I had a version of the experience Christyne Berzsenyi describes in her introduction. In the past few years I’ve begun to develop this language more explicitly and much of that is transferrable to the writing I’m asking students to do in 110. But often it ends up feeling like I’m totally winging it, no matter how much I think I’m prepared and have a plan of what to say. And this of course is why I like writing in the first place, for the opportunity to think through what I want to say and edit it.
    I don’t think this necessarily means I’m at a disadvantage as a teacher, only that it further complicates the idea of authority, for me. I tend to think of it as something I inhabit sometimes and hope to retreat from at other moments. It also makes the stakes feel higher for the direct dialogue I am beginning by commenting on student drafts, which I am literally starting today.

    In practical terms this often feels like an organizational challenge, setting myself each week to the problem of how to feel prepared, how to structure a class period to facilitate discussion, how to interject when I see a useful opportunity, and how to slow down, which is a reoccurring issue. I don’t know if there’s a remedy for it besides practice, time, study. In terms of specifics to answer the questions raised by Horner, I don’t feel like I have an answer yet. I expect I will keep trying things- different strategies to elicit responses or start discussions, different configurations of personalities– and taking note of what works.
    Because of that I find all of the practical readings to be immensely helpful. At the end of her piece Berzsenyi writes that, “Comments to Comments is a collaborative model of student-teacher revision; students are more likely to perceive instructors as being on their side, working on their behalf, rather than as an obstacle to overcome, psyche out, figure out, or manipulate in order to earn the desired grades.” (89) While her practice seems challenging to adopt in its fully realized form, as she describes it, I am imagining ways to adapt the principle that might further the same goals. I wonder if asking students to respond to a draft that I’ve commented on in a letter format would work, stipulating that they should choose three comments to quote and respond to explicitly, perhaps ones they agree or disagree with, or are confused by. Simply from a workflow standpoint, I don’t love the idea of asking them to transcribe all of my comments in a new document that’s separate from their original source text as a reference. That seems impractical for me and potentially frustrating for them. I see several places where her strategy intersects with our conversation about producing meaning, as when she claims that “most disagreements resulted in productive dialogue when students thought critically outside of my suggestions and in terms of their own rhetorical goals.” (79)
    Richard Haswell’s article on Minimal Marking describes a different strategy in a similar framework, I think– one that facilitates collaboration, although applied largely to lower order concerns. I highlighted this sentence too much commenting: “And it will frustrate both teacher and student because judgmental commentary unbalances the teacher-student equilibrium in an authentic learning situation, that is, where the student is doing most of the work.” (604) I’m interested in this authentic learning situation. Is it like a meaning-making practice? Will I know it when I see it?
    I’m going to try to keep this idea of collaboration in my mind as I plan more activities. I like Alain’s suggestions for a model of collective close reading, more in-depth than what we’d done with the same text, and for a “thinking piece” that asks students to write a thesis about Monster Culture that connects to their own experiences or interests. And the chapter on informal exploratory writing is full of very useful ideas.

    • Zeli M. says:

      Internally, I echo– pretty much verbatimly– all of the sentiments and idea’s Kate wrote in her first two paragraphs. “Theoretically optimistic” and “practically overwhelmed and changing moment-by-moment” really sums up the crux of my experience(s), so far, teaching english 210. I also echo what many have been saying with respect to the usefulness and practicality of this week’s’ readings– especially the Christyne Berzsenyi piece. It’s funny, because I almost feel like the collaborative underpinnings of Berzsenyi’s approache(s) to the Comments to Comments model, is inherently at work in a creative writing course. The constant writing exercises that seem to feel strange to students not used to writing creatively, workshopping (about to facilitate my first workshop this Thursday, so can’t fully speak on it yet!!), and structured peer engagement seem to play toward certain intentionalities that are rooted in Berzsenyi’s english comp model. Of course– for me, it all isn’t so grounded in compositional acuity or academic predilections. At least, not yet!

      What especially frightens me, more than anything, are those hand full of students who seem genuinely afraid to write creatively. As it stands now, much of my comments are designed to empower students to go further. I feel that a kind of active push to continue, is what most of the student’s need to feel comfortable sharing their intimate writing for workshop; workshops being a kind of zone where the real learning and growth, hopefully, happens with respect to craft. This is how I’ve been operating, however I’m not fully confident in this choice. Should I be addressing issues of clarity, technique, and quality, immediately–from the jump– in an intro to creative writing course? I guess, this is what is keeping me awake at night, haha. So far, I intentionally haven’t been.

      All this being said, I am very much interested in teaching english composition at some point in the future. I’m also trying to glean these readings– especially the practical ones– at face value, as if I were teaching english comp… I laugh to myself that maybe the english team at Queens didn’t pick me for english comp. for a reason, (Lol–I do want to learn!) but I’m really taken by the way Berzsenyi stresses critical thinking with respect to one’s own writing as something that can best be practiced collaboratively and frequently. It feels almost thrillingly practical so long as the inter flow of one on one communication between student and teacher remains active.

      When Berzsenyi articulates the lack in critical skills that sparks her routine use of the Comments to Comments model, she says “…students are not typically required to articulate a rationale for their choices or offer an explanation, defense, justification and reconsideration of those choices.” It goes without saying that this is so key! It’s one of those simple things that I feel like I need to remind myself both as an english 210 teacher and also a prospective english 110 teacher. And isn’t this so true for student and teacher, alike! {Not to mention, just as a writer!} Oie… I LOVE Kate’s idea of remodeling Berzenyi’s format to a kind of structured letter exchange/exercise. Something like this feels like it could retain all the vital elements of Comments to Comments, yet sort of perform itself as a more personable exchange that might generate a smoother traffic.

      • gfisk says:

        Yes! Let’s remember compare notes when we meet, about *how* Berzenyi’s format could be simplified, maybe, or streamlined, or just adapted to our situations– to keep the benefits we see in the general idea without so much complexity (and labor!).

  5. This week’s readings are especially useful on a practical level, as I am spending today and tomorrow reading through and commenting on students first Zero Draft Essay. My students were amused when I told them I’d be spending the two holidays reading through their papers—and was excited about it.

    Haswell’s “Minimal Marking” seems to have a practical application in the instance of the Zero Draft Essay, as the goal is to give students space to “think on paper.” Their assignment asked them to turn in two paragraphs of free-writing that were expected to contain mistakes, which was uncomfortable for some of them, but most seemed to eventually embrace it. However, as the stakes increase in their grading, I plan to increase my comments and ask students to respond to some of them, a la Berzsenyi’s “Comments to Comment.”

    With Haswell’s technique in mind, along with Elbow’s and advice from Chris, I am minimally marking my students’ Zero Draft Essays with no more than one comment per page. As per Elbow, I’ve read through all the papers today and will add comments tomorrow. This break in between the tasks is allowing me to mull over some of the common issues I’m seeing, which instead of marking on individual papers, I can address in a classroom discussion. It will decrease the amount of comments I might include and help me to concentrate on the higher order issues.

    My concern with Haswell’s method of minimal marking in later drafts is the same as I’ve discussed in class and in my previous posts—that students will be held to a standard once they leave my classroom for which I haven’t prepared them. I have no intention of marking every single error on any draft. I’ve seen the effects of that method, and it’s devastating to students. However, Haswell’s method of check-marking errors seems to go too far in the opposite direction. With mechanical errors students often can’t identify the errors and end up frustrated by ambiguity. As noted by Berzsenyi, “They often don’t have the vocabulary for understanding some mechanical errors by name.” While I see the value of minimal marking, I also support a note to the student at the end of the paper that explains what the marks mean: “Make sure you stay in present tense when talking about a text. See me if you want to discuss.” Or “Visit the Writing Center for help with verb tense.”

    While in theory, Berzsenyi’s “Comments to Comment” method is instructive, it seems impractical and too far at the other end of the spectrum from Haswell. My goal, then is to achieve a balance between the two, applying what seems the appropriate method to the assignment: low-stakes writing requires minimal marking, while high-stakes requires more. In their Formal Drafts, I’m asking that students begin to identify Harvey’s Elements of the Academic Essay in not only the reading (Stuart Hall’s text “The Question of Cultural Identity”), but in their own writing, along with where they are applying logos, ethos, and pathos. Additionally, I’m asking that they add some key terms (they built this list: http://collegewritingculturalidentity.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/key-terms/) to their response, which is their personal experience with a “crisis of identity” outlined in Hall’s text. My hope is that they will begin to apply an academic lens and vocabulary to their writing. In many of their personal responses, their English changes from the academic language they use in their analysis, which indicates their awareness of their translingualism—one student even wrote about it. My goal now is to work with them so that they can make decisions about where it works and where it doesn’t, balancing everyday speech with academic speech.

    Balance seems to be the key in my language and in theirs and with the amount of authority I have in the classroom.

  6. Tyler Plosia says:

    I found many of the pracitcal suggestions in Berzsenyi’s “Comments to Comments: Teachers and Students in Written Dialogue about Critical Reception” useful from a creative writing perspective (in addition to the more standard essay writing targeted by the piece). Specifically, the Types of Teacher Feedback section caught my attention. The types listed are:
    Questions that suggestion expansion, clarification, explanation, persuasion
    Remarks which reveal instructor’s understanding of the students’ texts so that student writers can evaluate whether that response is in line with their purposes or not
    Identification of a mechanical problem in a specific sentence with a request to explain the error of standard English and to correct the sentence
    Praise about what is working well accompanied by questions that ask students to explain why that element works well

    These suggestions stood out because (with the possible exception of the third) they all readily apply to creative work just as well as formal, essay-style work. The second one could be more of a personal point of focus in response to student writing, as I have somewhat avoided addressing intentionality behind work and instead dealing with what can be found on the page.

    There are some elements of Berzsenyi’s argument I question, though. First, the suggestion that students often cannot articulate their goals or intentions has not, for the most part, been as significant an issue in my experience as the author suggests. This seems to be the main reason she argues against the effectiveness of teacher-student conferences for discussing student writing.

    This, again, could have something to do with the types of students and classes being considered. And I have not scheduled student conferences yet, but in workshopping student work, there are always very clear, focused answers to questions like: what were you hoping to accomplish with this piece? When I do eventually schedule one-on-one conferences, I will be curious to discover whether students are more or less capable of expressing the intentions and goals behind their writing (as compared to how they are able to express them in in-class situations).

  7. Jacqueline says:

    Like many of you, I appreciate the practical approaches from this week’s readings and am eager to find ways to adapt them to the needs of my classroom. Berzsenyi and Haswell address an important concern, also present in Elbow’s essay: how to get students to actually absorb and learn from the teacher’s feedback? Thinking about my own experiences as a student, when and how have instructors’ comments served me? A theme that seems to be coming up (and one that rings true) is that the student has to find their own way to the answers (which may be fortuitously sparked by the teacher’s or another student’s comments). This shouldn’t be a discouragement, maybe just a reality check. This realization also connects with the question of authority. Ultimately, I’m hoping to pass the baton, so my students have authority over the writing skills they’ve worked towards themselves, with me and their peers as facilitators.

    Theoretically, I welcome Berzsenyi’s and Haswell’s methods in that they ask students to push themselves and find solutions to stumbling points within their writing by creating a dynamic exchange instead of offering corrections with no opportunity to question and ask for clarification. These approaches keep bringing me back to a question of transparency. There isn’t time enough to convince students of the import of every single activity, but at least pointing out the ways that all these exercises—whether engaging with draft comments, doing exploratory writing, or focusing on close reading—relate to one another and are part of the same thinking/reading/writing apparatus, offers students a chance to have the personal aha moments that will give them more agency and purpose in their work. This is all wishful thinking perhaps, more theoretical reflection, but worth striving for.

    In terms of specifics I’ve gleaned from these readings, waiting a day or two before doing the Comments to Comments activity is something I would like to try in order to give students some time to digest or get over my comments. This relates to Rachael’s point about taking a break after the first reading of student’s papers, which I also found helpful. Both for myself and my students, having an interim between a second reading can help us engage in a more useful dialogue. I’m not sure that Haswell’s minimal markings would work in my class. I can see it creating a lot of frustration for some of my students, but I would like to try some version of it on later drafts. I can see Comments to Comments taking many more class sessions than my syllabus will allow for, but will definitely be establishing a revision exchange as my students advance their drafts. Gloria’s suggestion of having them write a letter in response to essay comments and corrections will be something I’ll try, as well. I would also like to adapt Bean’s handouts explaining the purpose of exploratory writing. I appreciated his comment about exploratory writing being a great way to get to know your students. Reading my students’ informal writing has been incredibly valuable in this sense. I have a better sense of their writing and their personalities and am therefore better equipped to prepare lesson plans that address how they’re engaging with the readings.

    I’ve been trying to show my students how much the close reading, marking up, and summarizing we’ve been working on relate to their own writing. As Rachael mentioned we’re not only going to be reading other authors with that attention, but their own essays as well. As Berzsenyi writes, students “are not taught to critically analyze their texts.” (71) If we’ve been putting all this work into annotating, summarizing, and analyzing other writers’ work, we have to apply the same attention to looking at their own writing in order to bring the purpose of the class full circle. This is also one of the ways I’ve been helping them build their academic writing vocabulary, drawing their attention back to the ways their writing and reading skills connect. Making these connections and using the same words to do so has already given some of them more confidence in their work.

  8. Farrah Goff says:

    Reading Haswell’s “Minimal Marking” was extremely satisfying for me for a variety of reasons. For one, it took me back to my senior semester of undergrad when I sat down to do edits on my honors thesis and was face to face with lines and lines of red ink. I digress, while this article mainly discusses the pros of the strategy of marking more minimally from the point of view of the educator. I believe there is much to be said regarding the value of seeing less harsh or critical marks from the point of view of the student.

    Berzsenyi’s piece feels very at odds with what Haswell is saying. While Haswell’s piece works to have the students identify the problems themselves (and save time and energy from the instructor), Berzsenyi’s piece seems to put much more emphasis on the actions taken by the grader while doing their initial read throughs. However, one issue that Berzsenyi addresses that Haswell seems to gloss over is the idea of “low revision literacy” (75). “Students must be able to not only read the words but also to understand the meaning of the questions, rhetorical concepts, and suggestions for revision in order to respond to them appropriately and completely” and through Berzsenyi’s method, it is clear that most students do not know how best to do that. “Comments to Comments” allows the space for the student who may struggle greatly with the revision process, who may not be able to easily identify the error or mistake they have made, whereas “Minimal Marking” assumes that when directed a student will easily be able to identify the issue. It is in this case that I strive to move from a “Comments to Comments” type method towards a “Minimal Marking” method as the year goes on. A hopeful goal would perhaps be that by the commenting process of the third essay’s rough draft, students will have become more aware of the type of errors to look for and therefore will be able to identify when an error is made simply by being flagged to the existence of it.

    In my classes, we have the rough draft of the first essay coming up. Many of my students had questions in regards to what was expected to change between a rough draft and a final draft. So much so, it became clear to me that some students expected me to give them a clear outline of what I desired in each paragraph of their essay, and they seemed lost when I told them I would not be doing so. Other students seemed to expect me to edit or mark their paper so much so that they would only have to make the changes I told them to and this would ensure them a high grade. Either way, I felt both of these concerns and positions they posed me with offered me too much authority over their work. While I am the person who is responsible for instructing them and grading them, I have been spending time discussing with them the importance of their own voice and style in their writing. I am trying my best to illustrate to them that their thought processes and writing decisions are valid while simultaneously guiding them towards a higher level of academic writing than perhaps they are used to.

  9. Audrey Wollen says:

    I found Bean’s chapter on informal, exploratory writing very helpful — I have been doing free-writes with my students each class, and have noticed that it considerably supports a more lively class discussion. The biggest pedagogical hurdle I’m facing with my group is a quiet room and a collective timidity: they speak up eagerly when they are sure they have the right answer, but if its a open-ended, critical, or subjective question, there are some long painful pauses. But, if we do a free-write before talking, I think the question is transformed into something that almost looks like an assignment, and sharing the results becomes less of a risk. The first couple times we met, I collected their free-writes, to get to know them better, but now I’ve started letting them amass in their notebooks and specifically said that they should serve as reference material for our upcoming draft. I realized after I had collected the first one that many had combined their notes and their free-writes, and that by collecting the prompt, I had effectively stolen their notes from them! Beginning mistakes.

    Berzsenyi’s “Comments to Comments” idea seems productive in a class more spacious than English 110 — I can’t imagine asking my group to transcribe my comments verbatim on their papers and then respond to them and then get back a response to their responses! It’s a lot, and seems like it could easily become convoluted and unproductive. However, I think buried within that larger idea, Berzsenyi had a lot of useful advice on framing feedback as “inquisitive and interpretive rather than directive” (p. 77). Her simple re-phrasing of common feedback was really compelling — “Where is the thesis here?” versus “Missing thesis!” makes a real difference, and I think probably leaks out into classroom attitude and conversation too.

    It was interesting to read Haswell’s “Minimal Marking” from a teacher’s perspective, because as a student, I always ~hated~ receiving the X marks for errors rather than a correction of the error itself. Maybe because I have a hawk-eyed copy-editrix mother who can spot and correct a typographical error from a mile away — I knew “real writers” got red penned drafts all the time, and that a great essay was a collaboration between those editing and the writing itself. I was frustrated when teachers made you guess at your errors — It felt a little like someone making you guess why they were mad at you (“Was it something I said?”). Given that, Haswell did a surprisingly good job making X marks sound generative and worthwhile. I think I appreciate a middle ground: where the type of error is noted in repetition, not marked wrong every time, but named specifically so the student doesn’t have to wander through all the vast varieties of mistake she might have made.

  10. gfisk says:

    There’s so much here! I understand why Elaine held onto the opposition that Berzsenyi sets up between comments that are “inquisitive and interpretive” vs. those that are “directive,” and I think we could talk about that for a long time. Marginal comments just tend to *sound better* and support stronger revisions when they’re phrased as questions– or statements that have a questioning quality– than as directions.

    On one hand: “Interesting! How do you think [this piece of textual evidence] fits with your claim that [brief paraphrase of thesis]?”

    On the other hand: “[This piece of textual evidence] doesn’t make sense here, because you still need to show how it’s related to your thesis.”

    And I also think we should continue to talk about the affective dimensions of reading comments, to think about how we can use our comments to motivate and prepare our students for the challenges of revision. I imagine that we’ve all received feedback that felt “overwhelming,” as several of you said, defeating, or just uninspiring. And I bet we all know, too, what Audrey means when she writes about the frustration teachers can provoke when they observe patterns in grammatical error without saying precisely what they are: “I was frustrated when teachers made you guess at your errors,” Audrey writes. “It felt a little like someone making you guess why they were mad at you (“Was it something I said?”

    How can we observe patterns without promoting that kind of guesswork? I’m interested to know, too, what you see as the challenges and the potential of writing comments in an inquisitive mode. Do you find that desirable, and if so, have you learned anything so far that makes it easier to do?

  11. While Bean is able to provide more than a few reasons for his argument for exploratory writing, some of them, particularly the “enjoyable to read” argument are a bit lacking, but honestly and amusingly so. That said, it was impossible to ignore not only sound advice, but reasoning and scope in regards to this issue. In fact, though I thought the value in reasoning lapsed at times, the direct arguments posed by Bean come across brilliantly when he states “My thinking piece assignments continually present students with higher order critical thinking problems…They change the way students approach course readings” (121).

    At this point, Bean’s section on informal, exploratory writing has been the most helpful in regards to what is actually happening in my class. To start with, I must commend Bean’s concentration on critical thinking skills. When I did my student teaching at another university, it was for a program First Year Experience course required for incoming freshman titled Academic Inquiry and Scholarship. The first week or so was dedicated simply to critical thinking, a concept and set of skills that need much more development after high school. While not every school has a program or course required for students that directly addressed critical thinking, Bean’s article reinforces how these skills can be developed through these exercises.

    Furthermore, I really found it helpful to have a section like Bean’s “Explanation of Exploratory Writing for Students” (127). I feel that the trust that is gained through transparency is necessary for honest, successful, and earnest writing and instructor/student relationships. I have had students in my first year as a TA make flustered, annoyed comments about “busy work.” I’ve even seen a professor when I was younger scoff at the term, stating that they resented the term, and there was a precise reason for the exercise the class was completing. The professor never gave their reasons and the students never cared or trusted them. And this also seems to be true no matter the age or level of student. This past summer, I worked as a creative writing specialist for groups of children, 1st through 12th grades, and when providing workshop guidelines, they all seemed to appreciate hearing exactly why they couldn’t write about their peers or why gun violence in a short story is probably unacceptable for myriad reasons including the probable difficulty in sensitively and realistically convey that type of violence in short fiction pieces. At the end of the day, it might be in some people’s natures to resent being told to do something just “because.”

    Of final importance here for me is a transition I think I am going to start making in my own classes toward more in-class writing exercises. I usually assign these exact exercises as homework; it ensures my students come to class with the assignment read, ready to speak, with a typed piece of paper that also function as incentive for them to show up to class and turn in. That said, I think there might be something more conducive to the in-class discussion if said discussion follows an in-class exercise, especially using the four suggestions provided (though suggestion four: writing at the end of class… seems like it could be disheartening) (Bean 132).

  12. saba says:

    In reading “Comments to Comments” and Minimal marking, what struck me most was creating a space and the opportunity for inquiry, while holding students accountable to discover rather than being the receiving end of our feedback. Minimal Marking clearly and literally leaves out that space, as Haswell mentions: “The best mark is that which allows students to correct the most on their
    own with the least help.(604)

    In “Comments to Comments” the trial of finding another pathway towards dialogue with students via their assignments–and revision as a result was very helpful in case of my own teaching: “Comments to Comments assignment, an asynchronous, written collaboration between teachers and students that is designed to teach students to develop analyze, articulate, reconsider, and explain their revision ideas.”(72). Having “Students respond with discussion about their choices”reminds of the inertia I’ve been experiencing in terms of feeback and revisions. I use google docs and the “comments” functionality, I was surprised (but then not so surprised after all) to see that the comments get “resolved” according to my suggestions and that paper is handed to me as revision without further consideration from the students’ part. What I personally took away most from this article was to not block the opportunity to go further even if an assignment is well-done:“More specifically, when I used the vague praise of “good detail” I couldn’t be sure that the writer was consciously providing details that supported topic sentences. “. The other part that I also experienced was “Inviting students to disagree” (79). Following this discussion in classroom (I asked them to please disagree with my comments and take a different stance for revision if necessary), a student of mine, in his revision took a very different approach in comparison to what I had initially suggested, but the result worked great. So on that front, I agree with Berzsenyi, that the practice of “Comment to Comments” can help engage even the”most resistant students”(88)

    In reading“Informal, Exploratory Writing Activities”, tclassification of freewriting In-class exercises was very instrumental in organizing my ideas in case of teaching 210 where I assign various exploratory exercises. However the section about “Out-of-class” journals (133) is where I’d like to experiment with, although I am still not certain about the concrete ways of implementing it, so reading Weiheng’s comment in that regard about journals was very helpful.

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