This week’s articles were very interesting, and they made me remember the times when I was in elementary to high school. Oh, the writing experiences I had! Well, let’s begin with John Bean’s Writing Comments on Student Papers. Even though I work as a substitute teacher and have experience student-teaching as well, this article connected with me more as my past self, as a student of grade school. Written feedback on papers weren’t my favorite things to read (unless of course it was for a good reason). It was this following statement that irks me even to this day if I see it on a student’s paper: “You haven’t really though this through.” As the article states, how does the teacher know what the student thought, or how much? Maybe whatever they have written, is all they have to say. Why force the student to write more when it’s not genuinely coming out of them? It’s sad when that’s a comment considered to be put importance on. The point of feedback, in this case written, it to facilitate improvement which is done best via mitigated comments. Don’t hide the truth of what isn’t good, but don’t overshadow the positive elements in the work. The teacher should point out and emphasize the abilities of the student and not diminish their potential of becoming a wonderful writer because of a simple yet powerful mistake. Bean outlines the dual role of a writing teacher: first, coach and then, judge. It is a big responsibility to provide the appropriate criticism for students in the beginning to encourage them to do better and to make sure they understand their errors. They don’t know any better, and even if they do, make them act on it but as a positive coach, not as an obsessive perfectionist. When the final product is produced, the judging hats can come out because now the work will be graded based not only on what they knew, but based on what you taught them. Have they learned well? Only the final essay will tell. And like Bean suggest, this should be supported with a rubric so that the format and details of a well-written essay are specified to each student; they know what is expected of them.
The article also emphasized how grammatical errors are considered “lower-order concerns” for writers, but “high-level concerns” for readers. When I was in Middlesex County College, there was a professor who dropped my grade by one letter because of my grammatical errors on every paper. Was it my fault? No, because I wasn’t really taught grammar in school. It was skimmed over but not focused on. When I used to re-read my essays before submission, it seemed all right to me. But whenever I would get every paper back with a “B-/B+” with comments “Excellent content, but many grammatical errors. Overall, well-written,” I would be filled with frustration. Coming to Kean, I had my first and only class exclusively in grammar. Throughout, I wished I had this subject in elementary school. All my life I was never corrected by any of the teachers, and I was used to getting A’s. But I guess it’s like they say, there’s a first time for everything, and my first time not getting an A was thanks to a lack of understanding in grammar.
Our next topic is Peter Elbow’s Ranking, Evaluating and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment. First off, this article really took me back to my high school days, of watching cheat groups being honored and revered by the rest of the class. But that will be touched upon later. From the beginning of this article, it discusses how professionals are very fickle about their views on large-scale testing and assessment. And I can’t agree more. As a student, I was sick and tired of new forms of testing and grading criterion being thrown on me every year by different teachers. I would wonder “What do these teachers want from us? Why is it something new every single time?” But now I realize, it’s not always in teachers’ hands. In fact, most of the time it isn’t. They have to follow administration rules and I am 250% sure that they got more tired of it than I did as a student. When junior year of high school came along, GPA’s and class rankings were starting to become a big deal. But I didn’t think it was fair. All four years of work, plus everything I did to pass and reach that point, was summed up in one number? How is that “one number” supposed to properly represent me as a student, especially for college? And I was the one who had to do all the adaptation in school. Every year, the new English teacher (or whatever subject) would start off saying, “Whatever you learned last year, forget all that. This year, I will teach you the right way.” So, basically I wasted a whole year because they happened to be wrong and you’re my savior? It just never made any sense.
As the article progressed, I got reminded of my class’s cheat group. They were the ones who cared more about scores than learning. They didn’t work honestly and made sure that the ones who did, wouldn’t be included in their group, like me. It was U.S. History 1, a subject I thought I was horrible at because of how badly I did exams. But I realized later on, my teacher failed, not me. He would let us take tests on iPads and 95% of the class would Google answers and ace every exam. But I never approved of cheating and no matter how hard, I would study and get C’s every time. He never tested us on things we talked about in class, but yet, he had the nerve to tell my father during parent-teacher conferences that I wasn’t doing well in his class; like it was my fault, not his. Even to this day, his students get extra credit by bagging groceries at Shoprite because they do so badly in his class. Additionally, Elbow states that more cheating occurs by students who get high grades than those who get low grades. And I saw it in real-time. They cheated their way through every class, graduating school with the top ranks. I was #15 in my class senior year, but I was happy because I worked honestly. The valedictorian Googled her way through all the tests, but stood up there proud that she was #1.
All in all, these two articles really hit a note with me. It was personal, it was relatable and it really made me eager to implement the strategies used for successful and honest criticism, feedback and assessment. I have seen teachers fail because of their lack of know-how in these topics and it bothered me a lot as a student. I wouldn’t want to fail my students when I start teaching full-time. I want to be someone who will use these skills of coaching, judging, assessing and evaluating to help and encourage my students, not to hurt and frustrate them. I don’t believe in ranking, so I wouldn’t use that in my class. Similar to C.S. Lewis, I want to be someone who would describe my reason for approval or disapproval rather than just express it. Making someone a better writer is not just telling them what’s wrong; it’s showing them a destination and guiding them in getting there.