Responding to Students Writing (Sommers) & On Reflection (Yancey)

I like how Yancey open up the article by describing her class activity and characterizing the conversations and the students that made up her narrative composition class. The beginning of the article read almost liked a journal entry and I was convinced that would be the tone of the whole article. However the article changed form when she introduced the research study conducted in the 70s and 80s that asked the question “how do students learn to write.” Yancey stated that this question aroused because teachers who taught writing didn’t know much about the process. She stated, “We didn’t know much about the very thing we were supposed to be teaching: writing and the process that create it. We certainly didn’t know much about it from the point of view of those we were daily practicing upon: The students.” Yancey also discussed the writing process’s shift from traditional to current theories.  She briefly discussed these theories and stated that reflection played a very small role in their histories and out of theses popular practices in composition she asserted that only one single article was able to link reflection and composing together and this article was published by Sharon Pianko. In this article Pianko wrote, “The ability to reflect on what is being written seems to be the essence of the difference between able and not so able writers from their initial writing experience onward.” Although, both Pianko and Yancey admitted that reflection is a critical component of learning and writing, their descriptions of reflection is a bit different. In Pianko’s 1979 article, reflection was described as the author’s pauses and rescanning during the writing process and 20 years later in Yancey’s class room, reflection is “not defined behaviorally as pauses and rescanning, but as a means of going beyond the text to include a sense of ongoing conversations that texts enter into.” Further along the article Yancey clarified the term reflection in her text. “What I’ll mean in this text when I say reflection will be 1) the processes by which we know what we have accomplished and by which we articulate accomplishment and 2) the products of those processes.” Through out the article she continued to define and discussed reflection as a necessary body of practice that can help enhance the developing writer. Yancey does this by quoting others like Donald Schon, Brookfield, Dewey, Vygotsky and Polanyi.
Yancey ended her article by introducing 3concepts that she applies to teaching and learning of writing and they are reflection –in-action, constructive reflection, and reflection in presentation. 
Yancey’s article was very encouraging in that it discussed how reflection can enhance student’s learning of the writing process, however I had to trudged through it because its was not only boring, it felt very repetitive, wordy, and even a bit disorganized. I though too much emphasis was put on defining reflection rather then exploring how to apply it during the writing process and more importantly how to apply to teach and into the classroom.

I though Nancy’s article shed a light on a not often mentioned topic in education. As Nancy stated in the beginning of her article commenting on student’s paper is needed because “as writer we need and want thoughtful commentary to show us when we have communicated our ideas and when not, raising questions from a reader’s point of view that may not have occurred to us as writer,” however its not always clear that students learn from teacher’s comments on their writing. In my educational experience I don’t ever remember getting insightful feed back comments from my writing teachers that had help me to better evaluate my writing, I mostly remembered making the changes that my teachers requested so I can get a good grader and also to follow directions. Now that I’m a teacher I try to add thoughtful commentary to students writing and at times to the point of hinting to them what to add to their text, however I haven’t really put too much attention on whether they truly understand some of the comments. As the article stated this is an area teachers truly lack training in and I appreciate Sommers’s article because although there’s not really a right or wrong way to response to student’s writing, unlike Yancey, Sommers provided practical guideline teachers can use for commenting on students paper.

Regarding the final project I thought the handbook idea where everyone share their expertise in a subject is exciting, however like many have already stated the right audience and grade level need to be established before moving forward. Also, the idea of going digital vs. print is a good one to ponder on, but I would prefer a printed book because for me as an educator if the book is physically present I am more likely to read it and retain the information in it. But that’s just me though, others may see it differently. In any case we can always combine both.

A Reflection of Rhetoric

Nancy Sommers’ essay “Responding to Student Writing” provides a thoughtful, carefully devised process for improving a controversial and problematic area for many teachers--writing comments on student’s papers. Her 1982 study focuses on the importance of these comments as a tool for the student-writer to “engage with the issue they are writing about” (154). By following the studies recommendations, skills of reviewing and revising can become a learned practice for each student. Sommers states, “Written comments need to be an extension of the teachers voice--an extension of the teacher as reader” (155). This ability to be the reader is an important one for any student’s progress; the teacher’s comments are now that of an audience as well as a guide. “On Reflection” is an interesting—though lengthy—observation of a practice which, perhaps, should be infused in each student’s writing process. Written in 1998 as the opening chapter to Kathleen Yancey’s book Reflections in the Writing Classroom, the essay discusses various research methods employed to understand how students write. Pioneers of this movement, initially Sondra Perl and later, Linda Flowers and Joseph Harris, used extremely close analysis to document this process; however, this boom was followed by a period of vast disinterest. Yancey’s study is a rebirth designed for students to become “agents of their own learning” (5). Reflection carries multiple interpretations but the focus for Yancey is its importance to the composing part of the writing process. She feels it must be tapped to provide a clear idea of what one wants to express, revisited to produce an articulation of that truth, and lastly, used as a reflection through revision of the composition. Yancey’s beliefs are supported by theorists such as Vygotsky, Dewey, and Piaget, who find reflection an invaluable tool. Philosopher Donald Schon’s perspective and its relativity to her entire project sums it up neatly, “reflection is rhetorical” (12). That simple statement clarifies the concept of Yancey’s project. Mastery of rhetoric is necessary for any writing, speaking or persuasion to be effective, as noted by Aristotle back in about 335 BCE, in his Art of Rhetoric. This was about a century after the Golden Age of Greece and height of Athenian theatre, yet this student of Plato documented the necessity of ethos, logos and pathos for a mastery of persuasion. His other essential writing tool, The Poetics, clarifies the field of “poetry” into different genres—epic, tragedy, comedy and dithyramb. The precedents he set, and his keen sense of these principles serve as the base for both theatre criticism and persuasive writing today. He states, in The Poetics:”…begin in the natural way, with basic principles” (Worthen, 153). That sounds like a form of reflection and should be employed each time one takes pen to paper. One’s rhetoric can then be used for either good or evil purposes as this reflection is put on paper and eventually relayed to its audience. The idea of teaching students to write and the confusion as to how this is achieved can also be answered by Aristotle. He explains the use of composing—in its various mediums—as part of each genre’s collective imitative processes. I have never questioned how I learned to write, but in reflecting on this remarkable concept, I have to agree with his perceptions. Through imitating the writers who inspire and ignite our imagination, we attempt to become as dynamic. This imitation is seen in the other genres Aristotle discusses, particularly in the rhythm, speech, and melody of the “poets” or dramatists, but more importantly, it is observed in most every aspect of one’s existence as we get older and begin to “reflect”. We see that the rhetoric and reflection go around as the circular pattern of life continues. Imitation is a natural human response we all experience from our earliest moments as children, and will unintentionally use throughout life. By following Aristotle’s basic steps-- reflection, imitation, review, and revision, coupled with encouragement, insight, and a teacher-audience for each student-writer, perhaps we can produce confident, competent, and exciting new writers for the next generation to imitate. Works Cited Aristotle. “The Poetics” The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama, 6th ed. Ed. W.B. Worthen. Boston: Wadsworth, 2011. 156-156. Print.
The questions I would like to pose for discussion involve our personal composing strategies; 1. I would like everyone to try and remember the first important piece you ever wrote. What or who inspired that work? 2. Did you try and model your writing after any specific thing that was important to you, and if so what? When you write now, as adults in an MA program, do you ever refer to that “model” or inspirational piece to get started? 3. Do you use reflection in your own compositions? If so, how do you begin that process? If not, what do you draw on to write? 4. Lastly, in reference to Sommers essay, what types of comments have you received from teachers and were they helpful? For the teachers, any advice for the rest of us who hope to teach one day? On the topic of our class project I am rather excited about the handbook, both paperback and net-based! I believe we can all contribute something substantially useful based on our individual research; I look forward to this adventure with all of you!

Blog #2 – Responding to Student Writing by Sommers and On Reflection by Yancey

Responding to Student Writing by Sommers and On Reflection by Yancey

Sommers’ essay talked about comments teachers write in students papers. One of the first things that caught my attention about this essay was when it was stated: “we comment on student writing because we believe that it is necessary for us to offer assistance to student writers when they are in the process of composing a text, rather than after the text has been completed.” When I read this, I thought about classes I’ve taken and where the professor has actually shared how it is hard for them to comment on unfinished drafts because they don’t know how could they comment on something that is not yet finished. The professor shared this with the purpose of letting us know that the comments we were going to be reading from the professor were more to help us develop our drafts rather than to make us change what we were trying to say. The professor knew that what we were trying to say was still being developed. Therefore, the professor encouraged us to develop our thoughts and ideas through the comments. I feel like comments on student’s drafts, without a conversation or explanation, could be confusing for a student because they won’t see the reasoning behind the comments and could feel lost when reading them.

In this essay it was also stated that: “sometimes the students do not understand the purpose behind their teachers’ comments and take these comments very literally. At other times students understand the comments but the teacher has misread the text and the comments, unfortunately, are not applicable.” This made me think about the importance of having a relationship with the students. I feel like when comments are dry on a paper without further conversation about them, they leave a lot of room for interpretation. It could never be clear what is the teacher trying to say with the comments or what is the student trying to say in their draft.

Sommers later stated that students admitted having great difficulty with the vague directives the teachers were giving them in their comments. The students stated that when a teacher writes in the margins or an end comment, “choose precise language,” or “think more about your audience,” revising becomes a guessing game.” I find it ironic how the teachers ask constantly for students to be specific about what they are saying yet their comments are vague. I feel like this does not help the student develop their writing or learn anything about it. Instead, it creates confusion and a desire to write what the teacher wants if the student is able to figure it out rather than to write something the student is content with.

Yancey’s essay is about many theories that focused their study on reflection when composing. I started reading this essay and started to just take in the information in very smoothly but when I read “reflection has played but a small role in this history of composing.” I found this statement very disappointing. As a writer, I value reflection. If I don’t reflect on anything that has to do with what I am writing, then what’s the purpose of me writing anything at all? In my experience as a writer, I’ve found that when I reflect about what I am writing I am able to not only develop my pieces further but I am able to learn more in the process. Whether I am learning about me as a writer or about what I am writing, I am still learning and that is valuable. I valued when it was stated: “When we reflect, we call upon the cognitive, the affective, the intuitive, putting these into play with each other: to help us understand how something completed looks later, how it compares with what has come before, how it seems stated or implicit criteria, our own, those of other.”

Overall, both article stated important topics when it came to writing. The comments that teachers write on students papers form great part of the composing process as well as the importance in reflection when composing.  

Yancey’s "On Reflection" and Sommer’s "Responding to Student Writing"


     Hobbes is displaying the type of reflection I'm most accustomed to. Sit back, relax, and don't try to force self-awareness. I feel like the reflections I've had to do in school (from grade school through college) don't allow for this type of self-discovery. Most reflection assignments look the same: tacked-on questionnaires that help round out a portfolio from that school year. The same cookie-cutter questions were applied to each year's work. What was your favorite piece? What was your least favorite? How would you improve your body if work? It's not so much reflection as it is completing a new assignment.

     Yancey says students should be "agents of their own learning" and not "objects in a study", which is how the previously described reflection made it seem. For the student to take any kind of ownership from looking back at his or her work, he or she must feel invested in it. An assigned reflection with tailored questions is not done out of a desire for growth, but simply to meet a requirement.

     Yancey mentions that reflection is is habitual. Like most habits, reflection needs to be taught. As a teacher, one of the best tools I can provide to help teach students to reflect is the topic of our second article: teacher comments on papers.

     Poor Calvin. He not only failed the test, earning the scorn of his teacher, but he also still doesn't know who the first president was. Miss Wormwood gave him quite the dressing-down without helping him at all. It's very clear what he doesn't know so it shouldn't be too hard to correct his mistake. The comments she chooses to make are anything but helpful; she must have missed that day in college.

     But Sommers points out that most teacher training doesn't even address responding to student papers. I know mine didn't. I invite the other educators who are reading this to think back on their training. Does this hold true for us all? The first time I had to grade a student's paper, I remember sitting at my dining room table feeling so powerful... and rudderless. How do I know what to say to this kid? Sure I was the one in charge, but I still lived with my parents. I'm supposed to tell this kid what he meant to say?

     So I'm thankful for this article. It opened my eyes to how pointless most of the comments I've made on countless papers have been. Hundreds of students has simply fixed grammar mistakes I've pointed out, only to go on and make the same mistakes on the next paper. Sommers makes a great point when she says that correcting grammar in sentences that will more than likely be eliminated is pointless. Attack the ideas within the piece and force the student to focus on the meaning. I'll be sharing this article with my PLC this week.

     In regards to the final group project, I was amazed at how quickly the idea took off. I'm usually very easy going so I will agree with anything the majority chooses to do. I don't want those not in education to feel like they don't have a voice and were forced to create something they don't fully agree with. I agree that if this is the route we take, the audience must be determined quickly.

This would have been perfect for last week.

Thoughts on Our Final Project

These are just some random thoughts about our final project. I'll be happy with whatever we decide as a group, whether it incorporates any of my ideas or not.

If we stick with the handbook idea, we need to nail down who the audience is--teachers or students? If it is teachers, what level are they teaching?  If students, what grade? I'd rather a handbook for educators than a handbook for students. That might be more easily published through Dr. Zamora's contacts, not sure. Also, I don't personally have any interest in making a print book, but certainly any online resource would have printable pages. That might satisfy the urge for paper.

If it were up to me, I'd prefer to make a different online resource rather than a handbook. I'd love to make an online compilation of best practices instead of a general handbook. For example, I use  rubrics for evaluation. So I could reference the theories about feedback and evaluation, and then demonstrate the rubrics. Or something with grammar; it's just a thought. In her last post, Laura mentioned that she uses lessons about general revision and self-revision in her classroom. I'd love to hear more about that. I know Tobey uses some innovative techniques in her class as well. For those of us in the group who aren't teaching yet, we could talk about classroom practices that we participated in as students, not teachers, that were particularly effective, and link some of the theories we are learning to the practices we experienced.

Another interesting project could be an online writing course.  Since we are talking so much about "Composition and Rhetoric" and "College Composition" in this class, we could create a syllabus and online site for a college level writing course and each create some lessons or units. (There are 11 of us--we could have 11 weeks in the course. We could add 1 week of library work, one week of conferences, and one week of presentations, if we wanted to stay true to the 15 week semester.)

Those are just some ideas I wanted to run up the flagpole. I will work gladly on whatever project the group decides.

Reflections on "Reflections" and "Responding to Student Writing"

"We learn to understand ourselves through explaining ourselves to others." - Kathleen Yancey

When I was in college (the first time), I took a photography class that required us to use a clunky manual camera to produce a set of photographs utilizing complicated techniques/settings.  We then utilized the darkroom to develop the pictures and hoped the desired outcomes were achieved.  There was one more thing, however, if you were not able to produce the image correctly, an allowance was made by the instructor to submit a paper explaining why you were not able to achieve your goal.  A reflection (on the process), perhaps?  This article brought me back to that time and got me to thinking about my professor’s teaching practice…..

Flash-forward nearly 20 years to this past summer here, at Kean.   As part of the National Writing Project’s Summer Institute, I found myself, again, being asked (perhaps in a much more direct way this time) to reflect on my learning in a way I had never before been asked.  Weekly reflections regarding the journey I was taking were (required) to be posted on the blog, and the class culminated in a lengthy “reflective overview” about my experience.  Little guidance was given as to what these reflections should focus on, aside from connecting them to our work in the course.  I found this process invaluable.  When I sat down to write my reflections, I never quite knew where the writing would take me, but I found myself growing and learning more about myself-both as writer and a person-through this process.  That being said, being a “jump-right-in” sort of person, I knew I had to give my own students this same opportunity for development.  So, on day one of my new school year, I introduced my class to their new “reflective journals.”  I fully explained my expectations and reasoning for the journal to my 5th graders and sent them off to “reflect” (twice a week on days of their choice, to be collected each Friday, to be exact).  The students’ reflections on their own writing were eye-opening.  I knew right away this was something they needed to continue to do!  

Published in 1998, “On Reflection” is chapter one of Kathleen Yancey’s book entitled  Reflections in the Writing Classroom.  Yancey begins with a discussion of research studies done in the 70’s and 80’s surrounding the writing process, with a focus on that of Perl, Flowers and Hayes.  She is quick to point out that these studies lacked any real focus on the idea of revision.  She goes on to acknowledge current theory’s (Cultural Studies/post-process) widening view of the writing process. Still, aside from a piece by Pianko published in 1979, Yancey notes the lack of scholarship linking reflection and the composing process.  She finds common ground with the earlier process researchers in the way in which students were looked at as “agents of their own learning.”  “Ask ‘em” she says is one way to extract the knowledge she was looking to find.  Basically, her idea of this reflective encompasses knowing what we’ve achieved, articulating it, and the product resulting from those processes. Yancey points out the the surge in interest in reflective process stems from the growing interest in the assessment of student work.  I was somewhat surprised by the relatively large amount of text devoted to the ways in which human development psychologists’ theories (Vygotsky, Piaget, Dewey) connected to reflection.  However, I appreciate his connections and explanations. I was particularly struck by Dewey’s quote which said, “While we cannot be taught to think, we do have to think how to think well.”  I have to admit that there are times when I just want to scream “How can I teach my students to THINK?!?”  This statement allows me to consider a more optimistic view on my role in their learning process. In addition, the psychologists’ concept of language being “a tool of conveying knowledge and assisting thought” had me perplexed when thinking about what impact it must have on the ESL writer.  I liked the analogy comparing the two kinds of knowing to the “technical and the non-technical realm,” which made clear the idea that a classroom is latter and, therefore, messy and unpredictable, thus requiring the “expertise of its participants.” Yancey ends her piece with an anecdotal account of her experience in conferencing with students.  “...little correspondence was made between my reading of their text and their account of what went into the making of that text,” she says. Yancey concludes with expressing her desire for reflection to be “woven into the curriculum,” but adds that the idea of requiring students to be responsible for their own agency seems oppressive. Unfortunately, after a seemingly convincing argument, the chapter ends with a somewhat contradictory stance on the whole issue of infusing reflective practice in the writing classroom. Hmmmm….

All of this ties in nicely with Sommers’ article, “Responding to Student Writing” (1982), in which she ponders the question: “Are they(our comments) making our students better writers? Sommers grapples with whether or not teachers’ comments effectively communicate their ideas and contends that such comments should be made during the process rather than after the writing process is complete.  She begins her article by summarizing a study examining the commenting styles of teachers.  In the study, 35 teachers from 2 universities wrote comments on a set of papers from 3 selected students, which were then analyzed for form and content. Simultaneously, a computer program called “Writer’s Workbench” was used to analyze the papers.  I had never heard of this program and am interested in its capabilities and applications in the classroom.  It was explained that within minutes it spit back a list of suggestions regarding a variety of mechanical errors with the writing. Here, I wondered what the program would have to “say” if asked to analyze a professional author’s prose. It might be interesting to see.  Her research revealed a myriad of problems with the teachers’ commenting choices and discussed the possible negative outcomes of such. I found it also interesting that the teachers claimed that commenting was never part of their formal training.  I would have to agree with that sentiment.  The entire time I was reading this article, I had connections to my own commenting practice in the classroom which is simple: We don’t do it. At all. Ever.  Through my training in the Writer’s Workshop curriculum, I have been taught and have gotten in the habit of not commenting on student papers.  No red pen in my classroom.  We teach general revision strategies that are transferrable to their own texts and future texts through modeling via whole-group (self-revision), utilize partner revisions strategies, and engage in daily teacher conferencing sessions, rather than commenting.  These strategies are ALWAYS used during the process, rather than after.  This article reinforced my confidence in using these methods.  I agree with the concept of leaving the grammar and mechanic errors until the end in favor of working on developing the meaning and coherence of the piece first.  In fact, the rubric allows for some errors “as long as they do not interfere with the overall meaning of the piece.”  A lasting impression was made on me when Sommers declared that we should “force students back into the chaos” of their writing.  I find that students get very attached to their first drafts but they quickly learn that they should be just that: drafts.  Together, we muck them up and put them back together.  Reflective Writing Curriculum Book