All posts by dnwriter

Blog # 13: Thank You to the Class

This class has been an incredibly nurturing experience for me.  As I have said in a previous post and in class, I am grateful to Dr. Zamora for giving us an experiential understanding of the value in incorporating the tenants of the theorists we have read throughout the semester into the class structure that we all engaged in.  In addition to being supported in developing my voice, the comradery of the class expanded my mind and fed my spirit.  I always looked forward to Mondays as the high point of my week, because I knew that I would get to spend time with our intelligent and caring cohort.

All of you, Medea, Meaghan, Teethee, Alexis, Emily, Susan, Karel, Fatima, Kendra, Kevin, Patricia, Nives, Dylan, Linda and Dr. Zamora (I hope I didn’t omit anyone’s name), have given me so much during this period of time I have spent with you.  Everyone had a gift to offer.  Your presentations were thorough, organized, and enriching.  The conversations were consistently civilized, and I felt that we all engaged in active listening with each other.  There were times when the contributions of my peers broke down certain biases I held and other times when a professional example was set that was so admirable that I took a mental note to emulate a quality or approach. Additionally, I appreciated that Dr. Zamora encouraged us all to maintain communication by utilizing a blog, twitter, and the class website.  This added to the sense of community.  The online encouragement and moral support I received, pertaining to my writing and dedication to academic development, from Media, Patricia, Nives, Emily and Susan was appreciated beyond measure and definitely was a catalyst for  me to have more confidence in articulating my viewpoints, both in writing and in the context of class discussions. In summary, the combination of pedagogy that is non-authoritarian, in unison with a focus on the development of student voice and augmented by a supportive comradery that existed both in class and in digital forums, made class on Monday night feel more like a social gathering built around the objective of intellectual and personal development than an academic obligation.  I’m sure everyone agrees that coupling our presentations with yummy snacks or food was definitely a plus too!

I would like to conclude with a final expression of gratitude to all the class members who were so sensitive to my post-operative physical vulnerability:  I want to thank everyone who offered to carry my computer to my car, as well as everyone who actually carried it.  I would especially like to thank Patricia, who took on this responsibility, both to and from class, on more occasions than I can count.  Dr. Zamora, your empathy regarding this situation enabled me to finish this final class, and my graduate degree, unimpeded.

Blog #12: Gold Nuggets from Peter Elbow

The Script for an Audio Interview

Topic: Peter Elbow’s Concrete Suggestions for Teaching

Q: I understand you are going to share some of Peter Elbows pedagogical techniques with us.  What draws you to his teaching style?

A:  In his article Reconsideration: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries, he reflects upon the surge of enthusiasm in the 1960’s for getting voice into writing.  He, and other academics who were promoting voice in one sense or another, believed that voice in writing was an extension of the true self and had rhetorical power.  Another belief that was held by these advocates of voice in writing was that the goal of teaching writing is to develop the self.  These tenants resonate with me because I see them as a strong catalyst and motivation for getting students engaged in the learning process.  Additionally, Peter Elbow expounds upon his ideological position by making concrete suggestions:  He recommends numerous practices that encourage the development of student voice in writing.  That will be the focus of what I would like to share.

Q: Which one of his practices would you like to discuss first?

A:  I admire that he makes a distinction between high and low stakes writing. First, I would like to discuss this practice and how he implements it into his classroom structure and evaluation process. High stakes writings yield an evaluation of soundness of content and clarity of presentation that then becomes a grade; however, low stakes writing is written predominantly for the benefit of the student’s development of critical thinking and writing skills.  These exercises receive varying degrees of feedback or none at all.

Q:  Could you give me an example of when low stakes writing should be used?

A: Yes.  Low stakes writing should be used frequently.  Students should be given time in class and mandated to create written reflections for homework on discussions, readings, lectures, and their own thinking.  Also, if a student submits a high-stakes essay, a week or more before the final version is due, the student can then receive low stakes feedback.  This practice enables them to be able to make informed revisions for the high- stakes evaluation.  (Pause) Peter Elbow also believes there is great value in having “evaluation-free zones”.

Q: Can you give me a paradigm for an “evaluation-free zone”?

A:  The ten-minute, nonstop free-write is an example; however, an arena for deep learning can occur if enough time is granted to students, where they are free from the pressures of being evaluated.  Peter Elbow dedicates the first three weeks of the semester entirely to freewriting that is non-stop and private, leisurely journal writing, and quick-writes or sketches.  Sketches are unevaluated: however, they are read aloud by the students each day and collected by the teacher.  Only affirmations such as “thank you” or appreciating a passage serves as feedback from, either other students or the professor, during this period.  This practice builds community as well as improves student writing.  The improvement in writing skills may be because a greater volume of writing homework per week, during these first three weeks, is required.

Q:  Based on what your saying, I understand the Peter Elbow believes that critical thinking and student confidence evolves in an “evaluation-free zone” or under low stakes conditions; however, an evaluation process is necessary in most academic environments in order to yield a grade.  Does his system encompass this reality?

A:  Absolutely, he has made some concrete suggestions on how to diminish the student’s tendency to say what they think the teacher wants to hear about the content they express, while still implementing systems that have evaluative components.  First, he establishes standards that pertain to student conduct and a work ethic at the outset of the class.  He promises the students that if they fulfill all these requirements, they will receive a minimum grade of B.  I will elaborate upon the standards that lead to enriching the student’s academic development in a moment.  The evaluation methods he uses for low stakes writing differ from assignments that are high stakes.  Also, he uses a variety of simplified rubrics that enable students to understand where their strengths and weaknesses exist in terms of academic performance and writing.  Finally, he recommends that a portfolio serve as the basis for high stakes evaluation, because the student can choose their best pieces and the teacher has a body of work on which to base an important grade, rather than an isolated piece of writing.

Q: You mentioned that Peter Elbow establishes standards that pertain to student conduct and work ethic at the outset of a semester.  Would you like to elaborate upon that?

A:  Yes, thank you.  His list includes these items: “Not missing more than one weeks worth of classes; not having more than one late major assignment; substantive revising on all major revisions; good copy editing on all final revisions; good effort on peer feedback work; keeping up on the journal; and substantial effort and  investment on each draft.”

Q:  You also noted that his criteria for low stakes and high stakes assignments differ. 

A:  Yes, he has an evaluation scale:  He offers a greater amount of feedback for the assignments for which he has higher expectations in terms of the product itself.  All assignments have a value: The value in low stakes assignments, as I mentioned, is to afford practice without anxiety and develop student confidence within the context of community; however, assignments that have higher stakes need to meet expectations that are evaluated:

I am going to describe a continuum he uses between low and high stakes responding.

Zero Response is for the lowest stakes: Private journal writing would fall into this category

The next level is described as Minimal, Nonverbal, Noncritical Response:  In this stage of evaluation, strengths in a piece of student writing are indicated by the teacher placing a strait line under or beside strong points or strong writing samples.

The next level in this progression is Supportive Response- No Criticism: This evaluation method is used to articulate to a student, things that they are doing well that are unclear when only indicated by a strait line.  For example: “You chose a good approach to your topic” or “You write with a clear and lively voice.”

Descriptive or Observational Responses demand that the teacher skillfully reflect back to the student, what they are observing in the structure of the students writing, without being critical. For example: “You begin with an anecdote of your own experience; then show us how it throws light on your academic topic: Then you make your case- which really rests on a process of definition – showing what fits and what is excluded.”  This offers the student a mirror to their own work.

Minimal, Nonverbal Critical Response is when the teacher places wavy or wiggly lines underneath or alongside problematic areas.

The highest stakes assignments demand that the teacher provides a Critical Response, Diagnosis, and Advice.  Combining feedback in the form of a rubric, constructive critiques, and praise of strong points is a useful formula for providing clear feedback for a high-stakes assignment.

If appropriate, a teacher can be flexible and combine the various evaluation methods.

Q:  You mentioned that Peter Elbow utilizes a variety of simplified rubrics for different objectives.  I know it’s difficult to describe a graphic in an audio format, but could you direct the listener to where they could find that information.

A:  I would be glad to.  On page 194 and 195 of his article, Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgement, a sample rubric is depicted.  In the text that follows, he makes suggestions about how this format can be altered to meet the needs of different assignments.

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to say before this interview comes to closure?

A:  As a final note, I would like to reflect upon a belief that Peter Elbow and many others share regarding the use of portfolios for high stakes evaluations.  I would like to directly quote him first and then conclude with a final perspective. Peter Elbow states, “Course grades are more trustworthy and less damaging because they are based on so many performances over so many weeks.”  Personally, I think that process-oriented work, that takes place in an environment that minimalizes an authoritarian structure, yet, clearly establishes expectations regarding the students work ethic, is ideal for nurturing the development of student voice and critical thinking skills.  Using a portfolio, in conjunction with the other pedagogical methods mentioned in this interview, motivates the students to adhere to the delineated work ethic, and by affording them the opportunity to represent themselves through the final selection of their best pieces, empowers them.

Works Cited

Elbow, Peter. “High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing.” New Directions for   Teaching and Learning, vol. 1997, no. 69, 1997, pp. 5–13., doi:10.1002/tl.6901

Elbow, Peter. “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting out Three Forms of Judgment.” College English,     vol. 55, no. 2, 1993, p. 187., doi:10.2307/378503.

Elbow, Peter. “Reconsiderations: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries.” College English, vol. 70,  no. 2, Nov. 2007, pp. 168–188.

Blog #11: Concept for Final Class Project

This has been an excellent class for a multitude of reasons:  Dr. Zamora studied and organized a collection of theorists who predominantly advocated for the development of student voice within the context of a non-authoritarian learning environment.  What was exceptional about this learning experience is that we, as the students, had the opportunity to experience the empowerment that the theorists, we were reading, espoused; because, our professor and facilitator seamlessly integrated these ideologies and applied them to the creation of our learning environment.  Thus, we had the rare opportunity to understand many of the pedagogical theories we were reading about on both an intellectual and visceral level. Having transformed within the context of this teaching style, I am convinced that I would feel fulfilled emulating it, if given the opportunity to act as a facilitator with a class.

The authors we read offered theoretical explanations, research to justify their viewpoints, recommended resources and practical advice on practices and methods that can be integrated into ones teaching style.  The theoretical dimension of the readings gave us a window into “why” a given approach has value ; however, after having gained an understanding of “the why”, I believe I would benefit in the future by having an organized collection of segments referring to practices and methods or “the how”. Regarding the final project, I would like to leave this class with a manual of direct excerpts from authors we read, VERBATUM, pertaining to applicable practices.  I think as a class we can achieve this in three weeks.

Week One: Choose unit headings and break into groups under those headings. Assign one or two articles to each group member. Each group should open a google doc. and share the link before the end of class.  Also, a works cited page should be created and shared with the whole class.

HW for Week One: Cut excerpts from the articles assigned to you and paste them in your shared google doc. VERBATUM. (If you are unable to convert the PDF file to a format that allows for a cut and paste option, please retype the passage(s) as written by the author) Cite author in text and on works cited page.

Week Two: Each group should get together and organize the authors quotations, pertaining to applicable practices, in an order that is cohesive or makes thematic sense.

HW for Week Two:  Write brief transition statements between each authors recommendation’s or each conceptual shift. (I say conceptual shift because some authors, such as Peter Elbow, recommend methods and practices that relate to the development of contrasting skill sets).

Transitions: Although, there may be some benefit in briefly referring to the pedagogical reasoning behind the method or practice, my conceptualization of this project has a predominant focus on concrete applications and not the theory and research that stands apart from the directly tangible dimensions of pedagogy.  In other words, once the project is finished, we will all have a manual of practices we can apply to evaluation or teaching practices.

Week Three:  The class should synthesis each of the individual units (or google docs) into one cohesive piece.  Then we can proof-read it as a class. (Swapping units is an option at the stage of proofreading to allow each group to benefit from a new set of eyes.)

In trying to present a somewhat concise description of this concept, my communication may have come across as vague.  To avoid a lack of clarity, I will provide an example below.  Dr. Zamora has already given us a framework upon which we can build this project, because of the way she organized the reading roster.

ENG 5020 Reading Roster, Fall 2019

Perspectives on the Field of Writing Studies

Rhetoric and Composition by Janice M. Lauer 

Composition at the Turn of the 21st Century by Richard Fulkerson

Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Made Not Only in Words: Composition in a New Key.” College Composition and Communication. 56.2 (2004), 297-328.


Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries by Peter Elbow

Brannon, Lil and C.H. Knoblauch. “On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response.” College Composition and Communication. 33.2 (1982), 157-166.

National Writing Project. (2018). Civically Engaged Writing Analysis Continuum. Available at

Mutilingual contexts

Teaching Writing in the Multilingual World by Paul Kei Matsuda

Tutoring ESL Students:  Issues & Options by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva

Canagarajah, A. Suresh. “The Place of World Englishes in Composition: Pluralization Continued.” College Composition and Communication. 57.4 (2006), 586-619.

Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2005). A pedagogy of multiliteracies designing social futures. In Multiliteracies: Lit Learning (pp. 19-46). Routledge. Available at:

Rubrics & Assessment

Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria by John Bean

Writing Assessment in the Early 21st Century by Kathleen B. Yancey

Looking Back as We Look Forward:  Historicizing Writing Assessment by Kathleen B. Yancey

Formulaic Writing & Process

Wiley, Mark. “The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist).” The English Journal. 90.1 (2000), 61-67.

Teaching Writing as Process Not Product by Donald Murray

Garcia, A. (2016). How Remix Culture Informs Student Writing and Creativity. School Library Journal. Retrieved at

Nelson, Jennie. “Reading Classrooms as Text: Exploring Student Writers’ Interpretive Practices.” College Composition and Communication. 46.3 (1995), 411-429.


Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers by Nancy Sommers

Witte, S. (2013). Preaching What We Practice. Journal of Curriculum and Instruction (JoCI), 6(2). Chapter available at:


Writing Comments on Student Papers by John Bean

Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication. 33.2 (1982), 148-156.

Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment by Peter Elbow

Straub, Richard. “The Concept of Control in Teacher Response: Defining the Varieties of ‘Directive’ and ‘Facilitative’ Commentary.” College Composition and Communication. 47.2 (1996), 223-251.

Ferlazzo, L. (2018, November 3). Giving Students Writing Feedback: Do This Not That . Retrieved at: 

Elbow, Peter. (2002). High stakes and low stakes in assigning and responding to writing. Dialogue on writing: Rethinking ESL, basic writing, and first-year composition, 289-298


Hartwell, Patrick. “Grammar, Grammers, and the Teaching of Grammers.” College English. 47.2 (1985), 105-127.

Grammar Alive! A Guide For Teachers by Brock Haussamen et al.

The Erasure of the Sentence by Robert Connors

Writing & Identity

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire

Delpit, Lisa D. The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children, Harvard Educational Review; Aug 1988; 58, 3; Research Library

pg. 280

Bi, Butch, and Bar Dyke: Pedagogical Performances of Class, Gender, and Sexuality by Michelle Gibson, Matha Marinara, and Deborah Meem

Purdy, James and Joyce Walker. “Liminal Spaces and Research Identity: The Construction of Introductory Composition Students as Researchers.” Pedagogy. 13.1 (2012), 9-41.

Teacher-Writers: Then, Now, and Next

General Commentary on Writing Process

Bad Ideas About Writing Edited by Cheryl Ball and Drew Lowe

Hunt, B. (2013, December 11). We never use pen & paper [Blog post]. Retrieved from

Popova, M (2014, December 2). Lynda Barry’s Illustrated Field Guide to Keeping a Visual Diary and Cultivating a Capacity for Creative Observation [Blog post: Brainpickings] Retrieved from

Writing as Making/Making as Writing by Connected Learning TV

Fister, Barabara. “Why the ‘Research Paper’ Isn’t Working.” Inside Higher Ed. April 12, 2011 (web).

Jaxon, Kim. “One Approach to Guiding Peer Response.”National Writing Project. March 26, 2009. (web).

During the first week, the class can agree to keep these unit headings or to organize the articles we have read under different headings.

For clarity, I have placed some examples of quotes that pertain to the practical, applicable and concrete aspects of a theory:

Unit Heading: Feedback

the distinction between high and low stakes… here I am emphasizing a continuum with many intermediate points. Just as important, it is also a continuum from the least responding to the most responding.

Zero response (lowest stakes). When I am clear and honest with students about the fact that I need to require more writing from them than I can comment on, I help them fairly quickly get over any feelings of deprivation or resentment. Most students come to appreciate the chance to write with the knowledge that they will be heard but will not have to deal with my response. In fact, many teachers require some low stakes writing that they don’t even read. Students can appreciate and benefit from the freedom of this private writing. (See Sargent and Elbow, Chapters Four and Eleven, respectively, on ways to deal with private writing.)

Minimal, nonverbal, noncritical response. We can note effective or strong or correct passages by simply putting a straight line underneath particular words or phrases or alongside longer sections. (Teachers often use check marks in the margin for this purpose, but I find straight lines are more specific markers.) I can respond in this way virtually as quickly as I can read. Almost every student needs some encouragement, and some students on some occasions need lots. Even in very poor pieces of writing, certain parts are always better than others; students benefit from having them pointed out. To find strong points, even in weak writing, is a skill that will help us improve student learning and writing.

Supportive response—no criticism. There are usually things that students do well that are hard to point to with simple straight lines (for example, “You chose a good approach to your topic,” or, “You write with a clear and lively voice.”) Whether we call it praise or positive reinforcement, the fact remains that this kind of response does the most good with the least effort. That is, we are most likely to cause learning and least likely to do harm if the message of 10 WRITING TO LEARN our response is, in effect, “Please do more of this thing you are already doing here.” We are least likely to cause learning and most likely to do harm if we give the message that is all too often implied in critical feedback: “Start doing something you’ve never done before.”

Descriptive or observational response. An example of this response: “You begin with an anecdote from your own experience; then show us how it throws light on your academic topic. Then you make your case—which really rests on a process of definition—showing what fits and what is excluded.” One of the hardest things for student writers is simply to see their own text, to understand the logical and rhetorical strategies they have used. Neutral and noncritical observations can be very effective because students don’t need to resist them.

Minimal, nonverbal critical response. Just as quickly as we can read and put in straight lines, we can also put wavy or wiggly lines underneath words or alongside passages that are unclear or problematic or wrong. It’s remarkable what a strong sense of our readerly presence and response we can give to students when we note five or six phrases or passages per page with straight and wiggly lines: they get a felt sense of what is working and not working for us.

Critical response, diagnosis, advice (highest stakes). This is our meat and potatoes—what we tend to assume is our main job. Obviously, we often need to give critical response to help with learning and to explain the basis of poor grades. But my premise here is that the higher we go on the continuum, the more we need to ask the crucial pragmatic questions: Is this comment worth it? How much response do I need? How much criticism will be useful? What is the likelihood of my effort doing good or harm? (Elbow, 2002)

Concrete Suggestions

• For high stakes assignments, it can be very helpful to require a draft a week or more before the final version. Teachers handle drafts in a wide variety of ways depending on their circumstances and styles. At the very least, we can just collect drafts and not comment—simply checking that they are done— thus forcing students to carry their thinking through two steps. Of course, if our circumstances make it feasible, it is good to give comments on a draft. When we comment on a draft, our response becomes almost automatically low stakes, even if critical: we can write suggestions for revising rather than just an autopsy. (Notice in Chapter Six how Herrington describes the production of an essay that has very high stakes but one that students work up to along a path of lower stakes drafts and comments on those drafts.) It is probably worth cutting back on the amount of responding on some assignments for the sake of giving students at least one experience of feedback on a draft aimed at a revision. If we can only do this once, it’s better to do it in the first half of 12 WRITING TO LEARN the semester—with the goal that students can internalize some of our responses when they work on later high stakes assignments. But commenting on drafts may be more feasible than some teachers think: if we give good responses on a draft, we can make do with just a quick verdict on the revision (perhaps using the kind of grid that I suggest in Chapter Eleven).

• Even when we are commenting on a final version, we can frame our comments in a forward looking way: instead of saying, “Here’s what didn’t work,” we can say, “Here’s what to work on in future papers.”

• I find it easier to comment on important assignments if I get students to turn in a short reflective cover letter or piece of process writing with the assignment itself. I invite something informal, even handwritten. I ask them to tell me what they see as their main points, how they went about writing and what happened, which parts they are most and least satisfied with, and what questions they have for me as a reader. Reading the cover letter usually helps me decide what to say in my comment. Often I can agree with much of what the student has said, and sometimes I can be more positive about the essay than the student was. Students may have difficulty at first with this self-reflective writing, but it promotes a skill worth working on. It gives them practice in trying to see their own thinking more clearly. (Herrington gives good examples in Chapter Six of cover letters for a mid-process draft and a final draft.)

• I find commenting much easier if I read the whole piece before making any comments except for straight and wiggly lines. I save lots of time by reminding myself that students can seldom benefit from criticism of more than two or three problems. Therefore, the most crucial decision in commenting is which problems to focus on, and I can’t make that decision till I read the whole paper through. Most of my bad commenting comes from jumping in with marginal comments as I am reading: I am more likely to waste my time on something that turns out to be a minor issue, or make some passing remark that the student misunderstands, or say something that’s actually wrong (“You obviously don’t understand x,” when later on it’s clear that she does understand x), or get caught up in a little spasm of unhelpful irritation. If I settle for just making straight and wiggly lines, these serve me as a map when I glance back over the paper after I have read the whole thing and I am trying to decide what are the few main things I need to say. (In Chapter Nine, Chris Anson points out an exception: when we put our comments on a tape cassette, we may want to tell the story of our reactions as we are actually in the process of reading. Yet Anson also points out that even for this kind of responding he sometimes does better by waiting till he has read the whole piece.)

• As Hodges points out in Chapter Seven, when we return papers to students with our comments attached, it’s a great help sometimes to ask students to take five minutes right then and write us a short note telling what they heard us saying and how they are reacting to it. This helps us learn when we are unclear or when students misinterpret our words or react in ways we don’t expect. HIGH STAKES AND LOW STAKES IN WRITING 13

• If we are writing comments where the stakes aren’t too high, we can save time by waiting till we have two pieces in hand, read them together, and write only one comment on both. The comparison is often pedagogically useful. (“Notice how much clearer your point was on this paper compared to that one [or how much more carefully you argued]. What helped you?”)

• Though it sometimes costs me a few more words, I try to avoid an impersonal “God/truth voice” in my comments. Almost anything that we might say in response to a piece of writing is going to be affected by our own point of view. Even the main ideas in our discipline are arguable. If we are willing to say, “Unconvincing for me,” instead of “Unconvincing,” students are more likely to pause, listen, and think—instead of just resisting, or else unthinkingly giving in to authority. Besides, magisterial shorthand words like “Awk” are often extremely unclear. I have been trying to learn to write more accurate translations like, “I stumbled here,” or, “I’m lost,” or, “Wording feels unprofessional,” or, “Too slangy for my ear,” or, “Can you be less roundabout?” I sum up this chapter with that useful dictum “At least do no harm.” Think how much good we do in assigning lots of writing, especially lots of low stakes writing. But this approach is only feasible when we realize that we can get by with far less response and criticism than we usually assume. (Elbow, 2002)

Blog #10

The article Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options, by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva, made a distinction between tutoring practices that would be applied to a native English-speaking student and an ESL student.  Although there are many similarities in the way both categories of students can be supported in the writing process, it is important to note the differences to be an effective tutor.  For example, global errors should be prioritized for both and local errors should be addressed afterward. Restated, focusing on revising (rhetorical) needs should be prioritized above editing (linguistic) concerns.  Additionally, both groups of students benefit greatly when approaching the process by implementing planning, writing, and revising.

                This being said, ESL students are likely to need more support in generating ideas and planning, as well as realistic strategies for placing ideas into the appropriate rhetorical structure and editing (global and local needs).  Before working on one or two points in need of correction, in each session, it is important to acknowledge something that has been done well in the paper.  A student’s self-esteem influences their success in the writing process and therefore, it is essential to recognize strengths as well as offer guidance on how to improve on weaknesses.  Corrections should begin with that which “interferes with the intended reader’s understanding of the text”.  The tutor should spend one or more sessions on this objective before moving on to sentence level concerns.  Unlike native English speakers, ESL students may not have an intuition as to why there is a problem with a given structure.  It is likely that an ESL student will benefit from having rules explained to them in order to avoid making the same error in the future.  When working with intermediate and advanced level ESL students, I have found that the same rule is often violated multiple times in the same paper.  What appears to be 50 local errors may in fact only be six grammar rule violations: If the tutor explains the rule to correct one error, the student is given the opportunity to learn by identifying other errors in the paper, which can also be corrected by the same new knowledge.  Learning and applying new rules is time consuming, so the tutor should be realistic about how much new information can be absorbed by the student and applied in one session.

                Cultural awareness also helps the tutor to help the ESL student.  This is possible if the tutor works with only one or two different cultural groups.  From the perspective of linguistics, it is helpful to be aware of common errors that are made when transferring knowledge from the L1 of a specific language to the target language of English (L2).  There are other cultural factors that have an impact on the tutorial session as well: Body language, including eye contact and the amount of space people maintain between themselves, is relevant.  The relationship with time also varies from culture to culture.  If a culture has a loose relationship with time, the tutor may have to accommodate the student’s cultural assumptions initially.  Obviously, if this cultural difference dramatically impacts the learning process, a discussion about time, lateness, or showing up may need to be addressed.

 The article, Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options, is an excellent resource to serve as a starting point for English tutors who want to expand their skill set, beyond native English speakers, by offering their support to English language learners. The advice given about setting priorities, implementing important approaches when offering support, resources, and cultural sensitivity was valuable and concisely presented.

Using Rubrics to Develop and Apply Grading Criteria” by John Bean, is an excellent guide for helping teachers to select an appropriate rubric style for their grading purposes, to serve as a standard for peer review, and/or as tool for student self-evaluation.

Bean advises teachers to “communicate grading criteria to students at the outset”.   After having been a student for many years, I appreciate the fairness behind this advice.  Knowing the standards by which one will be evaluated, at the outset, makes one feel much more secure in moving forward in the learning process.  As a pedagogue, I understand that involving mature students in the process of contributing to the standards of evaluation, or altering them, may result in the student being more involved in the production of the assignment itself. 

Diedrich’s experiment, in 1974, gave birth to a scale that utilizes five criteria of good writing for evaluation purposes: Ideas, organization, sentence structure, wording, and voice.  Although this is a very good model, it is not the only one.  The evaluation style of rubrics can be analytic, holistic, generic, task specific, grid, or non-grid.  Bean recommends coupling the results of the rubric evaluation with the instructor’s comments and/or a holistic grade before deriving a final score.

General rubrics, such as Diedrich’s model, can be applied to many writing assignments; however, rubrics can also be designed or adjusted to meet the specifications of a particular assignment.  Additionally, there are different methods that can be used to describe performance levels.  A step-down approach can be adopted or a gridless rubric containing the instructor’s central questions, and the point value for each section.  Various rubric styles are suited to best meet the evaluation needs of specific disciplines, as well as specific assignments within a given discipline.  Using rubrics as an evaluation tool and/or a tool for feedback, enables the teacher to efficiently give students focused and productive feedback and streamlines the need for excessive commentary.  

Blog #8

Often in academic writing the author choses a viewpoint and a polarized argument with which to methodically defend that viewpoint.  Peter Elbow does not do this in his article Reconsiderations: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries.  In his article, Peter Elbow expounds upon the fact that as a pedagogue he is an advocate of integrating techniques into the learning environment that focus on the inculcation of voice in student writing and heightening an awareness of isolating the text from the voice in order to extrapolate meaning solely from the words and structure.  He stresses that there is no contradiction in advocating for two seemingly contradictory areas of focus when the dimension of time is brought into the discussion: He states, “It’s easy to pay attention and also not pay attention – at two different points in time.  We don’t have to read or write the same all of the time” (183). 

The Greek sophists believed that language could be crafted by any voice to help win an argument or a law case.  Plato argued that the power of language derived from the nature of the rhetors self.  “Aristotle refused this either/or conflict” (169).  He wrote that “We believe good men more fully and more readily than others” (Rhetoric 1356a) while also recognizing that a good craftsman could convince listeners of their position.  Peter Elbow recognizes that “good men do have an advantage and… genuine naturalness is persuasive” (169).  Therefore, a successful persuasive writer benefits from knowing themselves, developing voice and understanding rhetorical tools.

Lil Brannon and C. H. Knoblauch convey an approach to encouraging the development of student voice in their article On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response.  In his article, Peter Elbow offers reasons for attending to voice.  Brannon and Knoblauch recognize that if teachers allow their Ideal Texts “to dictate choices that properly belong to writers” (159) control is taken from the student in a way that is detrimental to the student developing further voice, logic, and deeper thinking.  Instead they recommend consulting the “student writer about what he or she wanted to say before suggesting how he or she ought to say it” (161).  They suggest that this approach shifts the focus from a teachers Ideal Text to one which leads both the teacher and student to decreasing “the disparity between what the writer wanted to communicate and what the choices residing in the text actually cause the readers to understand” (161). 

In order to achieve the objective of having the student thoroughly think through their own writing, Brannon and Knoblauch recommend:

  • Students compose drafts in which they also write out their intentions in a large column to the right of the text itself.
  • Multiple-draft assignments are permitted by the teacher to allow for the development of the writer’s choices and intentions in their communication.
  • Teachers should utilize several different teaching formats including one-to-one conferences, peer-group collaborations and comments on student essays.
  • Students and teachers need to share their different perceptions.  One way this can be achieved is by having both answer the following questions and then compare their notes:
    • What did the writer intend to do?
    • What has the writing actually said?
    • How has the writing done what it is supposed to do?
  • Formal evaluation should take place after the student has decided that their writing is finished.
  • Evaluation should be based on the plausibility of the writer’s choices regarding the needs and expectations of the intended audience.

All three authors, Brannon, Knoblauch, and Elbow acknowledge that developing voice is essential for the evolving writer. In his article Reconsiderations: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries, Peter Elbow lists the advantages of integrating the development of voice in writing into the classroom structure.

  • When pros “has voice” the words are more effective at carrying meaning.
  • Attention to voice helps rhetorical effectiveness.
  • The metaphor of “voice” helps students improve their writing.
  • Thinking in terms of voice can help people enjoy writing more.
  • Attention to voice can help with reading.
  • Voice links to the self of the writer.  It can result in writing that is more sincere and integrates resonance.

In addition to arguing for allocating a significant amount of learning time to developing student voice in writing, Peter Elbow argues for allocating time to ignoring voice as well.  He believes that this practice helps students to read critically by pushing away the persuasive elements that are conveyed through the voice of the writer.  He states that this gives students the opportunity to discern “the cognitive, logical, (and) semantic meaning itself” (180).  Analytic abilities evolve with this practice.  Reading in this manner informs the writing process because students learn to focus on pure message and logic when called upon to do so.  For example, in scholarly work “objectivity and impersonality are sometimes worth aiming toward” (182).

Peter Elbow notes that “voice is also alive in politics” (171).  This is an arena where the ability to discern the motivations behind voice as well as analyze the cognitive, logical, and semantic message is essential. These skills are not only necessary to be an informed citizen, but also to actively participate in democratic changes.  The National Writing Project (2018) developed Civically Engaged Writing Analysis Continuum (available at ).  This project has been developed to teach students how to write so that they can be actively engaged in the civic process and advocate for social change now or in the future.  The rubric contained in the website provides standards to guide students and teachers into creating a fruitful project: The complete rubric can be found at .  The rubric provides standards in the following categories: 1. Employs a public voice; 2. Advocates civic engagement or action; 3. Argues a position based on reasoning and evidence; 4. And, employs a structure to support a position.  It is within this context that the formula that Aristotle prescribed, a developed skill in conveying voice and being adept with the conventions of writing, should culminate in persuasion leading to social change. 

Blog #7

Acting, like writing, demands fluid self-expression and adherence to structure.  One does not negate the other. An acting teacher of mine would often advise the development of his students by saying,  “If a river is to run freely it must have strong walls”: likewise, if the well of human experience is to be transmitted through the medium of writing, it can, more often than not, be communicated through formulaic conventions serving as vessels for thought, feeling, and observation. Familiarizing students with the conventions of writing can be achieved in tandem with exercises that develop critical thinking.  I think it is unwise for a pedagogue to be polarized by exclusively teaching techniques or offering exercises that exclusively nurture the development of only self-expression or adherence to structure.  Ultimately, writing is an art form and the development of a writer, or writers. should honor that possibility.  Innumerable exquisite classical piano compositions are built on major, minor, augmented, and diminished scales.  Likewise, jazz music, another genera, builds complex improvisations upon it’s own set of studied scales.  Students begin the study of music by practicing the foundational scales upon which more complex structures are built.  In doing so, they prepare to give the freedom of expression to the passion of their souls.

The authors of The Popularity of Formulaic Writing (And Why We Need to Resist) by Mark Wiley; The Erasure of the Sentence by Robert Connors; and, High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing by Peter Elbow, in combination, make arguments that can significantly lead to inculcating mature writers if the concepts presented in their contributions are synthesized and integrated into instruction in a balanced way.

Mark Wiley argues that The Jane Schaffer approach to teaching writing, “a nine-week, step-by-step method for teaching secondary students how to write the multiparagraph essay” (Wiley, p.61) falls short in achieving it’s objective.  I would argue that this method is an excellent STARTING POINT for young writers who are unfamiliar with channeling their ideas into a template that guides them to organize their ideas into a BASIC five paragraph essay.  Wiley wisely recognizes that “Writing teachers must recognize that writing contexts vary, writing tasks vary, and our students, in order to grow and succeed as writers, must gradually develop a repertoire of strategies for identifying and then handling the differences each situation presents” (Wiley, p66). Later on in his article he points out that Jane Schaffer approach is inadequate for writing that needs to accommodate other genres such as autobiographical, reflective, speculative, or argumentative.  He also quotes and recognizes the validity of James Collins argument that “Declarative knowledge provides an awareness of content; procedural knowledge provides ways of remembering, obtaining and constructing information to achieve communicative purposes; and conditional knowledge tells the writer what conditions call for selecting among options such as syntax, wording, tone, and register.  In this formulation, writing strategies consist of both a set of controls (procedures) for accomplishing an end and a clear, intentional sense of when and how to use the controls (conditions)” (Wiley, p.66). It should be a goal to educate young writers to a point of maturity where they can appreciate and apply Collins insights. Upon finishing Wiley’s article I was convinced that a school system could not rely solely upon Jane Schaffer’s approach to fulfill the need writers have to be capable of expressing themselves in multiple genres; however, young people are DEVELOPING writers that are likely to benefit from formulaic writing as a starting point.

Robert J. Connors “examines the sentence-based pedagogies that arose in composition during the 1960’s and 1970’s- the generative rhetoric of Francis Christensen, imitation exercises, and sentence-combining” (Connors, p. 96).  His thorough research exposes the fact that these methods were effective in improving student writing; yet, by the 1980’s “Teachers and theorists reacted against any form of practice that seemed to compromise originality and the expression of personal feelings…”(Connors, p. 114).  Christensen’s pedagogy consisted of short base-level sentences to which students were asked to attach increasingly sophisticated systems of initial and final modifying clauses and phrases” (Connors, p.99).  Lester Faigley set out to prove two hypothesis pertaining to the validity of Christensen’s method: The first was to measure if students would evolve in syntactic maturity and the second was to measure a qualitative increase in writing skill.  His experiments showed that both hypothesis were positive in producing measurable classroom results.  Another syntactic method was popularized during the 1960’s:  Imitation techniques were applied by having students directly copy passages, compose passages using models, or interact with controlled mutation of structures.  In 1977, William Gruber wrote that “imitation liberates students’ personalities by freeing them of enervating design decisions” (Connors, p.102).   “Noam Chomsky revolutionized grammatical theory with his book Syntactic Structures, (from which) the theoretical base was established upon which modern sentence-combining pedagogies would be founded” (Connors, p.103).  Sentence-combining “is the process of joining two or more short, simple sentences to make one longer sentence, using embedding, deletion, subordination, and coordination” (Connors, p.103).  In 1973 Frank O’Hare’s research, Sentence-combining: Improving Student Writing without Formal Grammar Instruction showed definitively that significant gains in syntactic maturity took place for students utilizing this method.  Despite the proven success of teaching sentence rhetorics, the line of criticism that had endured for about a fifteen-year period resulted in these methods becoming unpopular by the 1980’s.  An ongoing complaint among critics was that these methods neglected to teach students the more important skills of defining issues, thinking, generalizing, and expressing value judgments.

Peter Elbow’s article High Stakes and Low Stakes in Assigning and Responding to Writing, addresses the issue of giving the students an opportunity to develop critical thinking skills in the context of what he calls low stakes assignments.  Low stakes writing assignments allow the students to express their ideas informally knowing that the grading process will also be informal.  He does not negate that high stakes assignments should also be required which demand that the students articulate what they have learned in a sound and clear way.  This being said, he believes that lots of low stakes writing should be assigned before they culminate in a high stakes essay.  This approach enables the students to explore, articulate, and clarify their ideas in depth before they are required to hand in an assignment that will have a significant impact on their grade. Low stakes writing can take the form of “quickwrites, letters, freewrites, thinkpieces, or inkshedding” (Elbow, p.7).  He has found that in addition to leading students into involving themselves more with the subject matter of the course, in low stakes writing their prose is livelier, clearer, and more natural: This approach ultimately leads to improved quality of students’ high stakes writing. In order to encourage students independent thinking he offers a supportive or noncritical response to low stakes pieces and a more critical or diagnostic response to high stakes assignments.  Additionally, he recommends offering no more than three written comments so students can genuinely focus on the changes that are recommended.  Elbow also recommends involving students in the process of analyzing their own high stakes pieces: He engages their participation by asking them to write a short reflective paper or cover letter, to accompany their essay, that addresses “how they went about their writing”, “what they see as their main points”, “which parts they are most and least satisfied with” and “what questions they have for him as the reader” (Elbow, p.12)  In order to see if he communicated clearly when commenting he allows the students to take five minutes immediately after receiving their returned high stakes papers to write a short note telling what they heard in the comments and what their reactions are.

“The river can not flow freely unless it has strong walls.”  The writing practices recommended by Wiley and Connors contribute to the systematic development of rhetorical tools, while Elbow makes recommendations that encourage critical thinking and authentic expression.  Rhetorical tools provide the walls to the river that flows forward from unencumbered free thinking.  Art is the combination of the two as one.  Writing is art.

Blog #6B

Writing Assessment in the Early Twenty-First Century, by Kathleen Blake Yancy, points out the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to writing assessment.  Throughout the article she traces the evolution of standardized testing as moving from placement tests that were “typically a multiple choice test of editing skills” to a phase which evaluated student writing samples utilizing a holistic scoring method and ultimately she describes that in the late 1980’s the vehicle for assessment that was typically used was a portfolio of writing.  She accented that there were various approaches that different institutions applied to portfolio construction and thus assessment.  Furthermore, she explains that the federal governments role moved from a disinterested stance to one which developed standards and measurements that are aimed at influencing the practices of educational institutions.  These standards and measurements encourage educational institutions not only to adopt a model which is outcomes based but also to adhere to standards that allow for comparability across institutions.  Compositionists, who are concerned with local contexts and values, have developed local program assessments to enhance their curricula.  Other institutions have developed new models of assessment that are more sophisticated and provide evidence of validity.  In recent years many educational institutions, both high schools and universities, are utilizing portfolios as a centerpiece of assessment for both student learning and from which to measure the effectiveness of the teaching methods of the educational institutions. 

Blog #6 A

War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria by Lina Mounzer on the Urgency of Telling the Stories of Conflict bled with the wounds inflicted by bullets and oppression.  When I was finished reading the piece, my heart ached, and I wept.  Unlike convenient soundbites used by the news, she unfolded the meaning of words, in the context of poetic prose, to serve as vessels that transmitted the suffering of being subjected to war in Syria. I dare not paraphrase central accounts in the piece out of respect for the authenticity of the voice and the gravity the voice conveys from having survived terrors.

The piece opens with the following: “I have been threatened, beaten, strip-searched, thrown in prison, tortured and made to watch as my mother knelt weeping at the dirty feet of tribal leaders to beg for any information about my kidnapped father. I have waited at countless checkpoints, praying that no one finds the bread, the money, the schoolbooks, the chocolates I have hidden in my bag, on my body, trying to smuggle them through to people on the other side. I have buried seven husbands, three fiancés, fifteen sons and a two-week old daughter I finally agreed to have at 42 for my husband’s sake, to bring life back to his tongue after we laid our two grown, handsome sons to rest, one after the other, and grief took all his words away.”

The media keeps us removed from the human torment.  The language that is used is cold and brief.  The author, Lina Mounzer, recognizes the danger in the media distancing listeners from the inhumanity taking place: “We know how language itself can wage war against us, by mimicking the same casual dehumanization of a bomb. Everyone you know and love: terrorists. Militants. Strategic targets. Collateral damage. The leveling of your neighborhood: an unfortunate mistake. The razing of your city: the birth pangs of a new Middle East. Seven dead, twenty wounded. Forty-one dead, ninety-three wounded. 1.2 million refugees. 2,000 migrants.”

Unlike the media, throughout the piece the skillful author ensures that the reader understands the nuance and weight that words signify to the victims of the war: “A barrel will no longer ever be a barrel again; shrapnel will always explode from it. The word mustard will forevermore carry a whiff of gas, rashing your skin, smarting your eyes. When you say Sabra, or Shatila, you are not referring to a place, but to a heap of dead bodies shot indiscriminately and tossed aside like worn rags.”

Blog #5

This week we reviewed four articles on the topic of writing: Teach Writing as a Process Not Product by Donald M. Murray; Failure is not an Option by Allison D. Carr; Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process by Crystal Sands; and, Writers Block Just Happens to People by Geoffrey V. Carter.

Donald M. Murry made a strong argument for teaching writing as a process and not a product. At the outset, Murray states that once the teacher comes to the realization that teaching and learning composition is a process a curriculum can be designed which meets that objective.  He then goes on to articulate various objectives of such a curriculum.  He encourages teachers to engage in the process of using language in the process of communicating their views on the world around them.  Additionally, he states that teachers should support the process that evolves during the time that the work is unfinished by encouraging this time period to be an exciting period of exploration with language.  Students should also be encouraged to express the truth as they see it and dismiss notions of correct or incorrect.   He explains that the writing process can be divided into three stages: prewriting, writing, and rewriting.  He believes that prewriting takes about 85% of the writers time, writing the first draft may take as little as 1% of the writers time, and rewriting, which reconsiders subject, form, and audience perhaps necessitates the remaining 14% of the time the writer spends on the project.  He stresses that it is the job of the teacher to elicit the students potential voice and to achieve this the teacher should first listen and then serve as a coach and encourager.  He leads the reader to the conclusion of his article by enumerating 10 implications of engaging in teaching composition as process and not product.  1. Students examine the evolution of their writing with their peer group. 2. “The student finds his own subject” 3. “The student uses his own language” 4. The student should have the opportunity to engage in multiple drafts to refine their message 5. Various approaches to writing should be encouraged during the exploration process 6. “Mechanics come last.” 7. A deadline should be clear to the student after a sufficient period of exploration, development, and refinement.  At this point the student receives a grade. 8. “The student writer is not graded on drafts.  9.  This approach allows the student ample time to unearth their own truth. 10.  Teachers adopt a perspective of waiting for, listening, and eliciting the student’s potential.

Murry’s article integrates well with the concepts presented in Allison D. Carr’s article, Failure is not an Option.  After presenting the negative connotations of failure, Carr states, “What we have failed to grasp… is the integral connection between failure and risk, creativity, and innovation, not to mention emotional and cognitive resilience.”  After accenting that in the fields of medical science and technology research that “fails” is necessary to explore options that can lead to a sought after answer, he stresses that the same is true in writing.  He includes a quote of Ta-Nehisi Coates in order to encapsulate a central point of the article: Ta-Nehisi Coates… “describes writing as a process of repeated failures that, with persistence, accumulate to create breakthroughs.”   Carr’s concluding statement indicates that he would be a strong advocate of Murry’s belief that writing should be taught as a process: Carr states, “it is crucial that the project of developing as a writer is understood as an always ongoing process of learning and discovery and that writing classrooms should be thought of a laboratories where experimentation and question-asking prevails over rule-memorization and formulaic discipline.”

Although Murry and Carr both advocate for teaching writing in the context of a process-oriented curriculum, Murry makes it clear that ultimately the process arrives at a point of evaluation.  In Crystal Sands article Rubrics Oversimplify the Writing Process the author articulates what she sees as the benefits in utilizing a rubric as a tool of evaluation.  She states that one of the benefits is that this method of evaluation, discussed in advance, helps students to know what the basic expectations are which eases their writing anxiety.  She also sees the rubric as a tool that facilitates student self-assessment and one which encourages critical thinking skills.  Additionally, a rubric supports students in effectively engaging in peer review.  As the title of the article states, Sands recognizes that a rubric can guide students to focusing on key elements; however, “several more specific or unique comments on the student writing” may be necessary to encourage students to examine elements that a rubric does not address.

Geoffrey V. Carter’s article, Writer’s Block Just Happens to People is a well written humorous piece that ultimately encourages a writer to enjoy playing with words if or when writers block occurs.