The Dreadful Red Pen and How It Can Be Used for Good

Being a writer, I have always valued feedback. Feedback helps me become a better writer and brings me closer to my dream of one day being a published author. Sadly, it took me several years to accept negative feedback. At some point, that changed, now I use it to fuel the writer’s fire within me.

Unfortunately, just like me, so many young writers are used to receiving negative feedback on papers. I was pleased to have the opportunity to interview a former student who had unfortunate experiences with feedback in his educational career. It impacted him so much that he did not want to continue his education after high school. He was tired of being let down by his teachers, who he felt did not allow him the chance to find his voice in his writing.

As you can see, writing negative comments did not help Vincent when it came to writing papers. He was let down and abandoned by those who were supposed to guide him. Instead of receiving any source of reinsurance by his teachers, he felt defeated.

On the other hand, enforcing more positive comments can only benefit a student and provide them the confidence they need to advance their writing. I was also given a chance to interview a current high school student who was encouraged by his teachers to write outside of his comfort zone.

We can see James feels more confident as a writer. Vincent, on the other hand, did not because of the type of feedback he received from his teachers. I feel as if educators or those who teach in a writing-styled classroom can utilize a few of these tips.

My Personal Relationship with the Red Pen

It was not until sixth grade that I gave up all hope on writing. As I mentioned in my first blog, “Why Do You Write?” I told about the constant struggle I had with reading and writing at a young age and the scar that it left. However, I found my saving grace in a middle school teacher when she encouraged me to pushed myself further as a writer.

I was never really taught the “proper” way to write. All I know is when writing an essay; there is an introduction paragraph with the thesis being one of the last two sentences, three body paragraphs about the given topic, and a conclusion paragraph wrapping it all together for the final sign off. That much I understood, it was the grammar. I never comprehended grammar; it never “clicked” for me. Before I met my saving grace, my entire paper turned into the Red Sea.

The feedback I was receiving never really helped me. My teachers never sat down with me to explain their reasoning behind their corrections, and they expected me to make the corrections and to understand why I was wrong. But I never did. The comments only decreased my self-esteem as a writer more. I felt embarrassed, dumb, and unteachable. I always asked for help, but I would receive the typical response, “figure it out yourself.”

Finally, seventh grade rolled around when I had the best Language Arts teacher ever! She cared about her students, she wanted us to succeed, and she pushed us past our boundaries as a writer and reader. After every paper (in this case essay), we would have little one-on-one conferences about our work and what needed to be improved or how we could enhance a particular area. This pushed me, and I never worked too hard towards something before in my life.

Fast-forwarding 12 years, I’m currently working on my Masters in Writing Studies and striving to become a writing professor and a published author. Becoming a professor has always been a dream of mine. I enjoy writing so much that I feel that I need to share my passion for the younger generations to come and possibly give that student who doubts themselves the reinsurance that their writing is enough and to keep pushing forward.

Turn Negative Comments into Positive Ones

  • “Great introduction, but next time focus more on…”
  • “Perfect use of vocabulary, but try to rephrase this sentence.”
  • “I truly enjoyed your summary/example/adaptation of the text/quote, but try to find another source/textual support to better help your argument.”
  • “Your overall paper is fantastic, but why don’t you meet me after class to go over formatting/MLA citations/paraphrasing/etc.”

For further information about giving your students feedback, please refer to a past presentation a colleague (Nives Migliaccio) and I worked on together.

Also, here are the two articles mentioned in the above presentation (1 & 2) and an additional article on the subject matter.

  1. Writing Comments on Students Paper by James Bean
  2. Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgement by Peter Elbow
  3. Responding to Student Writing by Nancy Sommers

Giving our Students a Voice: Listening to our Learners

Just teaching at our students is not enough for them to gain a proper education. In my my now second year serving as a Reading Coach through AmeriCorps, I have been able to see my previous statement as a reality; for students that I had and currently have the pleasure to work with. The current population of students I serve are urban city students, who are first generation English speakers. My second grade students have humbled me to the idea that students have just as much say in their education as of a Teacher, Administration, or Superintend. The issue that comes into play is that who will actually listen to them?

During my first year as a Graduate Student, I have been able to put my theory from my courses into practice with my second graders. Through different creative exercises, discovery learning outcomes, and putting play into learning, I have a new understanding to what is best for my students. With that said, I have come to these and many other conclusion for my students by doing the following: Listening to them! No, I am not the perfect educator, but I am willing to hear their ideas and stories because they have so much to say! The following are three areas are were I see my students’ voice needs to be heard the most; Voice in their writing, the silenced dialogue, and ESL learners.

silenced dialogue

THE CULTURE OF POWER

This snippet of the article kind of breaks down the forms of power and how it plays a role in education. I found the first three points more suited towards the classrooms.

  • (1)Issues of power are enacted in classrooms.
    • Power of teacher over students. Teachers ultimately choose the learning.
  • (2) There are codes or rules for participating in power
    • Linguistic forms, communicative strategies, and presentation self.
  • (3) The rules of the culture of power are are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power
    • The success in institutions – schools, workplaces, and etc – is predicated upon acquisition of the culture of those in power

“Many liberal educators hold that the primary goal for education is for children to become autonomous, to develop fully who they are in the classroom setting without having arbitrary, outside standards forced upon them.”

“The dilemma is not really in the debate over instructional methodology. but rather in communicating across cultures and in addressing the more fundamental issue of power, of whose voice gets to be heard in determining what is best for poor children and children of color.”

ESL Learners

ESL students are defined as the following; English as a second language (ESL): people who come to live in an English – speaking country, and do not speak English very well (http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/ESL) . With research on the topic of ESL students as an undergraduate, and my current experience as a Reading Coach, I’ve been able to have both the education and field experience with the ESL student population. In the aspect of learning English in an academic setting, ESL students may have a harder time understanding the “standard English” that is accepted into the world of academia. By trying to speak this academic English language, many issues may appear in their writing. Unfortunately, the academic system in most native – English speaking countries only see writing as a way of truly understanding English “correctly”. Even many native – English speaking student writers have trouble with writing and the process it takes to become a good writer. With that said, we as educator (on all platforms) must approach ESL students in a manner that both benefits them and their best interest to grow as writers. Now that I have made a clear understanding of the position where the ESL students stand, it is now appropriate to introduce the article. 

Most public schooling have approximately a class size of a 1:23 ratio of teacher to students. It is quite challenging for one teacher to address the specific needs of every student, especially if they have a slight extra baggage (disabilities, IEPs, ESL, etc.); this is where tutors come into play. As I stated previously, tutors’ roles are to aid with the writing process, to help students develop their writing. Unfortunately, even tutors must address the elephant into the room; tutors need help and pointers on how to work with ESL students. Unlike native – English speakers, ESL students have deeper rooted issues with their writing, that might even be a handful for tutors. This article is a breath of fresh air for tutors who have students that come from ESL backgrounds. The reading goes on to break down into 11 subcategories that tutors may face with their students and options to help their situation.

voice in writing

“Writers in fact depend on readers’ willingness to stay with a text, even a difficult one, without judging it prematurely on the basis of its apparent violation of their own perspectives or impressions of some subject.”

Of course for many of us who have been reading our entire lives, see no fault in this true assumption. But unfortunately, we do not see in the case of our young beautiful writers. We do not see them having the capability to have this type of authority. This writing stigma is built upon the relationship we have between them as student and teacher (I am currently very guilty of this with my 2nd Graders).

“When we consider how writing is taught, however, this normal and dynamic connection between a writer’s authority and the quality of a reader’s attention is altered because of the peculiar relationship between teacher and student.”

Due to teachers feeling that they have this intellectual and experienced authority over the students writing, we try to have a say so over what type of voice the student is trying to have inn their writing. We come in with having the best intentions, but it fall shorts when we let this authority ego take over.

Sticky note to ms. p!

My proposed project for theme of voice in writing and education, I am giving my students the chance to voice their opinions and input on how they want to shape their education.

I created this replica of a “sticky note” that my students are accustomed to me using when I give them feedback on their writing. For each month I will give my students theses weekly personal learning outcomes they want to meet so that I could address them. At the beginning of each week, the students will take 5 minutes to fill out the sticky note so that we can work on these goals for the week. For my project, I will share so completed books on my blog!

further reading

Elbow, Peter. RECONSIDERATIONS : Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries. 2007, scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1006&context=eng_faculty_pubs.

Harris, Muriel, and Tony Silva. “Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 44, no. 4, 1993, p. 525., doi:10.2307/358388.

Delpit, Lisa. “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 58, no. 3, 1988, pp. 280–299., doi:10.17763/haer.58.3.c43481778r528qw4.