The articles “Writing Comments on Students’ Papers” by John C. Bean and “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgement.” by Peter Elbow discuss strategies that aim to ameliorate the process in which teachers revise and grade students writing. Both articles correlate to systems of grading. The weight of the negative comments discussed by Bean is based on the fact they translate to a negative grade. While Bean focuses on strategies to soften commentary and revising in meaningful ways, Elbow’s approach attempts to place focus on evaluations that are detached from ranking. Elbow implies we have students on a hamster wheel of seeking approval. From grade to grade and instructor to instructor the rules change and during that process students lose confidence in their abilities as both learners and writers. When given a topic, students neglect critical thinking and focus on teacher expectations and rigid rubrics.
“The best kind of commentary enhances the writers feeling of dignity”Bean
We forget “Feeling unapologetic and vulnerable” (Bean 1) as we climb up the hierarchy of the education system and our roles are elevated from student to teacher. In this transition of roles a paradigm of power is created. Bean states “At the drafting stage, our role is coach. our goal is to provide useful instruction, good advice, and warm encouragement. At the end of the writing process, when students submit a final copy, our role is judge. At this stage we uphold the standards of our profession, giving out high marks to essays that meet the criteria we have set.” (Bean 5)
While I understand and agree with the argument the Bean is making, I take issue with the wide range of roles educators are expected to evolve into. A coach and judge are from completely different areas of expertise. The role of coach remains the same, even after the player improves and becomes a star player, whereas the teacher is expected to transform into a completely different area of expertise.
I do however, agree with commenting as guidance rather than negativity that may stifle student efforts and motivation. Commenting in ways that reinforce positivity and focus on student strengths not only provides necessary revisions to the writing but may also enhance the relationship between student and teacher.
The author suggests useful strategies on commenting on a “hierarchy of concerns” (Bean 6). This strategy suggests focusing on high order concerns in relation to writing so that the student can focus on areas of concern rather than overwhelming the student with a myriad of issues.Commenting should serve the purpose of strengthening student writing in meaningful ways. Commenting on student writing should be guiding in a manner that is specific and clear for the student to understand. If the student is repeatedly making grammatical errors or sentence structure, rather than marking the errors , there is an opportunity to teach the student the principal the student is violating. This is a meaningful kind of correction because it helps the student recognize what they are doing wrong and avoid it in future writings.
The main purpose of revisions and commenting is for students to improve their ability to produce that is structurally correct as well as increase their intellectual development.
Elbows primary focus is moving away from ranking and grading to evaluating. He does so in an effort to relieve the stress that is often attached to grading, allowing students to write more freely and with more confidence. Removing this stress helps students focus on the topic and think about a topic thoroughly rather than focusing on a grade. They develop writing skills through practice rather than jumping through to meet a certain set of criteria. When students are constantly being graded, they are abandoning a free spirited element that makes writing enjoyable for most. Elbow states “ That is, if we evaluate everything students write, they tend to remain tangled up in the assumption that their whole job in school is to give teachers “what they want.” (Elbow 11) They write with the intent to please the demands of an authority figure without really staying true to their own thoughts. The problem with this dynamic is the demands change constantly from rubric to rubric and teacher to teacher.
Perhaps the hearichy should change from the hierarchy of power structure to structure based on compassion and meaningful learning. all levels of the education system need to replace terminology of power with terminology that awakens a sense of compassion and empathy. Scoring, ranking and grading yields a sense of power and authority among educators which defines the dynamics between student and teachers. It removes elements of compassion, understanding and empathy required to make learning an enjoyable experience.
Perhaps the only lesson we are teaching students through harsh commenting and ranking of grading systems is that their worth is equivalent to their grade. This ranking system follows students their entire lives. In primary school it’s a grade, then SAT scores in highschool, then it’s a GPA in College and later on in life the rank translates to job positions and salary. We continually impose structures that identify people on a very surface level basis, not as complete humans, with a wide range of abilities and talents.
The goal of revising and commenting on students to be hand in hand with expanding critical thinking. Providing students guidance in improving their writing allows students to express their ideas and opinions in formal and informal ways. Improving a students ability to write whilst adhering formal writing principals commands the attention of their readers once they enter more professional settings. Meaningful strategies help improve students ability to write, not to get a better grade, but to be better communicators.