Again, I went a little overboard and wrote a lot. These are my thoughts on "Responding to Student Writing." I wrote a lot about this primarily because this is a subject I'm very interested in as well as something I'm very concerned about.
"it takes...at least 20 to 40 minutes to comment..."
Right away, I relate to this. I often edit papers for friends, and I can say each time I review something, it takes me an hour without fail. Most of this is because I am commenting on their paper. Not even correcting things, as most of the time the paper needs little-to-no correcting.
“most widely used method…it is the least understood” this reminds me of a paper I wrote on teacher comments on student papers, and this is, unfortunately, very accurate. Many times a teacher’s instructions are unclear because they are limited by physical space (on the paper itself) and time.
“helping our students become more effective writers” what I learned from researching this topic is that the most effective way to help a student is to make suggestions /pose questions, instead of throwing around corrections. The example I often reference is the differences between comments like “too vague” compared to comments like, “What do you mean by this?” For one, the question this (ironically) more direct and therefore more constructive; it guides the student towards rethinking the wording, and lets them know that the sentence doesn’t work, but allows them the freedom to fix it themselves. Whereas “too vague” itself is too vague to be helpful because students are often left wondering, “why
is it too vague?” It also insinuates that the student has failed to be clear enough, or a poor writer. “What do you mean by this?” is not only less condescending, but also implies that the fault is not (completely) on the student, and gently/subtly encourages them to reconsider and revise their words.
“communicated our ideas” this is what writing is, a medium for us to communicate our ideas, not a mold to fit our ideas into.
“dramatize the presence of the reader” interesting, since I feel that students are sometimes overly aware of the audience—the audience being the teacher, that is.
“become that questioning reader themselves” interesting way to see the writer. It is true that, once we learn this predictive skill as writers, we kind of shift role from “writer” to “audience member”. It seems as if we writers become our own
audience, and our writing becomes a description of what we, as audience members, would like to see. Possibly even from other writers, not just what we envision for our own writing.
“believe that it is necessary…to offer assistance” does this imply that assistance is not
actually needed? The use of ‘believe’ is interesting, and almost implies that perhaps a teacher’s commenting stems from an egotistical root?
“in the process of composing a text” again about the process, not the final product.
“comments create the motive” interesting, since students are often discouraged by comments
“as the theory predicts they should?” they do not; the theory is flawed due to poor execution.
“hostility and mean-spiritedness” surprising to hear; I, personally, never came across a teacher whose comments were intentionally mean, or even seemingly so.
“their own purposes in writing…teacher’s purpose in commenting” interesting shift of attention.
“make the changes the teacher wants” writing now becomes about the product.
“tell me what you want me to do” shows how writing is also (or primarily) about the grade, not what the student wants to say. It also shows how students rely on comments to achieve the desired grade, not to improve the quality of their writing.
“still needs to develop the meaning” interesting how the text is already, according to the teacher, finalized but the meaning is not even close to done yet. A disturbing contrast on the teacher’s part. Although I can see how such a discontinuous message could occur, I believe it is the teacher’s job to make sure their instructions are clear and consistent. Reading the sample comments of the “super bowl” paper actually got me annoyed, and I disagreed with some of the corrections. “One explanation is that people” is not “awkward,” especially if the writer is as young as the text implies (grade school, in my estimation). Also “another what?” is an unnecessary correction; the previous sentence started with “one reason,” and was followed by “another”. The “reason” was implied, I think. I think the teacher not only undermines the student with this, but also undermines the reader a bit (although I am torn, because I feel the teachers in our class will say this teacher was trying to teach their student a lesson in specifics, which is important). However, this is where a suggestion would be preferable: “this sentence works as is, but maybe getting more specific would make it stronger?” Also, the “be specific—what reasons?” is kind of stupid (sorry), in my opinion, because it seems like the student is setting themselves up to explain some of the reasons in the following sentences.
“an inherent reason” making it about the product. Not only does it completely disregard the process, but it also undermines the purpose
of the writing. If you’re not writing to communicate a message, why write at all (“trivial activity” indeed)?
“their texts are not improved substantially” this is true. I never noticed this before. Perhaps they are improved in only the most technical of senses.
“do not take the risk of changing anything that was not commented on” I’ve done this.
"trained to read...for literary...meaning" true, especially when you consider that "English (literature)" and "writing" are often seen as two separate fields, and have been for a while. So of course there might be some trouble transferring one skill set to another area. Dr. Zamora herself has admitted to something similar this in class (how she took the lit track, and this is her first writing kind of course).
"a way for teachers to satisfy themselves" DAMN. Sommers is calling teachers out on their
nonsense. It is true, I think, that some teachers actually do get lazy and end up saying, "hey, I did my job, it's not my fault if you can't get a good grade. I already told you what to do." And many times, I think that mentality manifests itself through comments.
Final thoughts: I liked this article very much, although the sample comments made me SO ANGRY. I can only imagine how unhelpful these are to students, especially ones that are not very strong writers (yet) and are in need of serious guidance (guidance that the teachers are failing to provide). I also thought it was interesting how you could copy and paste (so to speak) teachers’ comments from one document to the next. While reading this, a consistent thought ran through my head: while editing the papers of others, have I commented this way? Am I guilty of this? I like to think no, but now I am evermore aware of how vital commenting can be. This article makes me excited to grade papers, so that I might be the helpful instructor that my students may not have come across yet.