All posts by Susan Wong

Revision and Remix

Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers

In this article, Nancy Sommers points out the differences between revision strategies of students and experienced adult writers. Students write following a sequence of steps (linear) that are dictated by teachers and textbooks. They think that if they follow the rule that a composition must include an introduction, body, and conclusion, then their work is largely done. In addition, they write the way they speak, so if it’s clear to them what they want to say, they are reluctant to make revisions. When they do revise, it’s usually to move words around in order to avoid repetition and they follow the guidelines set forth by their teachers. These minor changes do not reflect meaningful improvement or a development of ideas. Their essays lack depth.

On the other hand, experienced adult writers revise as a way to “find the form or shape of their arguments.” The constant search for a framework to build their arguments requires many drafts and endless revisions. There is also an awareness of the struggle between what they intend to say and how it actually appears on paper. Sommers says that these writers experience “dissonance,” a feeling of discomfort or conflict in their writing, and revision helps them resolve these conflicts. Students too can sense this “something larger” problem, but they haven’t figured out a strategy to deal with it. 

I think in general what Sommers says is true. 

While reading this article, I had flashbacks to elementary school. English was not my first language, so I had great difficulty with writing. I never knew how to start a paper until I learned about the 5-paragraph essay. Some critics call it formulaic, linear, one dimensional, boring, but I really needed that structure. It got me out of the writing rut I was trapped in for years.  I totally relate to the students interviewed for this article. Their strategies for reviewing are very similar to what I used to do when revising my work.

What I found missing from this article is how experience and maturity play a role in shaping writers and the revision process. The older you get and the fewer restrictions put on your writing, the more freely you can think and the more likely you are to take risks. I also think that a big difference between these 2 groups, besides maturity level, is that obviously experienced adult writers, and many in this group sound like professionals the way she describes them, write for a reason other than to please a teacher. They write because they like to, not because they have to. This is the path they have chosen, so they have a vested interest in their writing. Even though they spend a great deal of time on revision, they write with purpose, so that every word, sentence, and paragraph is well thought out. They know how to manipulate words in order to influence an audience. Most younger students do not have the level of maturity or language development to write effectively or persuasively. They also don’t have enough life experience to add depth or character to their work. 

On Remix

What an interesting article. I always thought of remix as pertaining to music. Every time I hear a new version of an old song or see a new version of an old movie, I call it a remake, but I haven’t heard that term in a long time. Does remake now fall under the umbrella of remix? And I had no idea that this could apply to literature. I always thought that copyright laws would make something like this difficult or impossible, but I am pleased to know that it has happened and that it is gaining momentum. I can see how transforming a popular work of fiction to include a different perspective or current concerns would be very appealing to a wide range of audiences. 

Questions:

Is a remix more difficult to create than coming up with an entirely new idea?

Or is it easier because the story is already there and you just have to steer it towards a fresh audience?

Would there be more pressure and setbacks when trying to refurbish or update a beloved movie or story?

Commenting on Students’ Papers – Will Teachers Ever Get it Right?

Writing Comments on Students’ Papers

In Writing Comments on Students’ Papers, John Bean explores the psychology of students’ emotions when confronted with comments about their essays. Teachers often forget that their students are sensitive human beings and may react negatively to harsh or overly critical remarks on their papers. Research shows a definite relationship between emotions and learning, and how you respond to students’ essays will have an impact on their ability to improve as writers. John Bean gives great advice on how to be constructive and encouraging so as not to hurt or frustrate students. Most of his tips seem obvious though, and some of his examples of what to write are very long and detailed. I’m not sure it’s realistic or even possible for teachers to spend that much time on each essay, given the number of students they have and the amount of drafts they have to go through.

I agree that establishing a “hierarchy of concerns” is very effective in stimulating meaningful “re-visioning.” Some issues are more important to take care of first, and working in stages prevents overwhelming students. My earliest experiences with writing were very discouraging. Every one of my papers came back filled with red marks and sometimes nasty comments – Were you paying attention? What language is this? John Bean would have been horrified. The traditional method of correcting papers caused me a lot of anxiety. I’m so glad that many teachers these days choose to use positive reinforcement instead.

The second part of this paper about paragraph and sentence organization will help me tremendously as a writer. The explanation about the “old/new contract” and the examples Bean gives (version 1 and 2 on p. 328), show very clearly the efficacy of this practice. I wish my teachers had been trained to use this method when I was a young student. Letting students judge for themselves what is considered good and bad writing is very effective in helping them to improve their own work. When they can point out other people’s mistakes it makes them less likely to make those same mistakes.

In our last class, Dr. Zamora said that she had never in all her years of schooling had a writing class. Come to think of it, I’ve never had a class either that focused just on writing. I understand now that it is a requirement in freshman classes at most colleges. But shouldn’t there be such a requirement in high school, or even middle school? Why wait until college to teach the fundamentals of writing? 

Responding to Student Writing

After reading Nancy Sommers’ essay, I sympathize with teachers and students. There is no simple way to give feedback on student compositions. If it’s true that most teachers spend 20 to 40 minutes commenting on an individual student paper, then there just aren’t enough hours in the day for English teachers to get their work done. They couldn’t possibly do what John Bean suggests about writing lengthy and detailed comments on student essays. As for the students, trying to decipher teachers’ comments and diagrams can also be very frustrating and time consuming. 

There is no easy solution here. I’m not saying that multiple drafts shouldn’t be allowed, but since they are, the first draft will be very rough, making it difficult for teachers to figure out where the student is going, this in turn often makes the teacher go overboard with comments. The student then gets overwhelmed when he sees all these comments, leading to confusion and anxiety. It appears to be a vicious cycle.

Another problem is when students try too hard to please the teacher and get distracted from their original premise. Also, there are times when the teacher’s suggestions appear contradictory or vague. With all this sorting out to do, revision becomes very intimidating and risky, making the entire writing process very frustrating.

I found very interesting the fact that responding to student writing is rarely addressed in teacher-training. Most teachers are not aware of how to offer commentary that motivates revision because they are trained to find errors, and this bias toward mistakes sets a tone for their commenting.  This practice in the extreme does not benefit student or teacher. There needs to be some middle ground between correcting and constructive feedback.

I think establishing a good rapport with students during class time and letting them know specifically what you are looking for in their papers is a good starting point. In addition, providing and deeply examining many examples of both successful and unsuccessful compositions would also be very helpful. 

Ranking, Evaluating, And Liking:

On Elbow’s essay 

The tedium of correcting massive amounts of papers and the dissatisfaction of seeing no real joy associated with the writing process, for student or teacher, has made this seasoned teacher turn philosophical about evaluating writing. I understand his frustration and I would throw up my hands too if I observed what he has over the years, but I don’t think his solution is practical.

To me, ranking and grading are 2 different things, so Elbow’s use of the word “ranking” confuses me. Ranking implies placing someone or something in a certain slot. I don’t approve of this practice either, but I don’t think it’s the same thing as grading. He seems to use these 2 terms interchangeably. But I do agree, that ranking (or grading) is unreliable and often harmful. His example of how one English paper can be given different grades by many different teachers shows that it is difficult or even impossible to arrive at 1 agreed upon score. Holistic scoring is a system that emerged in an effort to consider a wider range of criteria when giving a single score. He picks apart this method too. I don’t think it’s perfect either, but it takes into account multiple elements, increasing the possibility of a fairer grade.

This essay was hard to follow, but I do think Elbow’s ideas are interesting (and entertaining). This is a man with many years of teaching experience who observed that the traditional methods of grading do not make students better writers. He proposes evaluation as an alternative to grading, but he is not entirely in favor of this either, claiming that too much of it can also be dangerous. His ultimate solution is for teachers to become better “likers.” If you like your own writing, as well as your students’ writing, the entire evaluation process will be much more likeable, but don’t let all this liking get in the way of “clear-eyed” evaluation.

susanwong388.wordpress.com 2019-09-23 00:21:01

Rhetoric and Composition

I found Rhetoric and Composition by Janice Lauer quite interesting. I’ve never read a paper describing so much research surrounding the teaching of writing. The idea that it is Interdisciplinary, involving psychology, sociology, linguistics, etc. , makes perfect sense since family, culture, and language inform what we think and write.

As a result, I am quite surprised that rhetoric’s relationship to composition wasn’t brought back until the 1960s. I find both interrelated, so why did it take so long to reinstitute it as one discipline? The fact that writing was relegated to faculty that had insufficient knowledge of the writing process explains why students had such difficulty putting words on paper.

Research done in the 1960s and 1970s led to a shift from expository to a more personal style of writing, and also placed less emphasis on the teacher as the sole audience. This is important because it makes writing a more thoughtful and less mechanical process. Taking into consideration who you want to reach influences language, style, tone, content, and goals, making the writing process more persuasive and purposeful.

Speaking of audience, the “Social Turn” in the 1980s has a great deal of relevance in today’s world of technology and social media. If knowledge is a social construct and individual thought is influenced by peer communities, are today’s writers in danger of social conformity? Do we put constraints on our own writing if we worry too much about what other’s think or try to please specific social groups? I think collaboration is good, but too much of it may impede creativity and voice.

I appreciate the practice of revision as an alternative to giving a single grade on a finished paper. All throughout high school, I handed in papers that received one grade. My teachers never gave students the opportunity to revise essays and most of the time there were no comments on the paper either. So, if I got an 80 I had no clue what I did wrong, and as the school year progressed, I kept making the same mistakes. Allowing for multiple drafts and giving constructive advice along the way are valuable features because writing is a process and treating writers and their readers as “co-creators” makes the experience more collaborative and gives students direction.

I also find the issue of grading problematic. So much research has been conducted to help students evolve as writers and to place more emphasis on the revision process, but when it comes to grading, especially on standardized tests, the same methods prevail. Students respond to writing prompts and raters are trained to grade them “holistically” using a rubric. However, a student’s ability to “invent and revise” is not taken into account. If writing is truly a process, then shouldn’t both the beginning and end product be considered in grading?

Here are some other issues I would have liked Lauer to address.

I can clearly relate all the topics covered in this paper to higher grades, especially high school and beyond. But what is the impact on younger students? Does Whole Language versus Phonics have a place in this discussion?

How much does all this scholarly research and debate influence what actually happens in the classroom? What is the trickle down process?

Will standardized test scores be the ultimate indicator of whether these new waves and movements on teaching writing are successful?

Othering & Belonging

In Othering and Belonging, Powell and Menendian use the term “othering” to describe the forces and conditions that create inequality among groups of people throughout the world. Racism is just one manifestation of othering, but it is the practice that people are most familiar with when it comes to unfair treatment. There are in fact many other expressions of discrimination, and othering offers a lens into the framework of conditions and social processes that support these expressions.

In contrast, the authors claim that “belonging” is the solution to othering. Being inclusive and welcoming all people into communities that reject stereotypes is the key to fighting othering. It also lessens the chance that false leaders will prey upon our fears and prejudices.

Reading this article really helped me understand that there are no simple explanations for racism and all other forms of oppression. I also found interesting the hierarchy of “outgroups” in the Unconscious Bias section. Since I am Asian, I am a member of the “envied outgroup,” characterized by low warmth and high competence (in what? math?). I guess I am an outlier in my own outgroup because I consider myself a warm person of average competence in most things I do.  The authors do not address where unconscious biases originate. For example, do they have anything to do with how certain ethnic groups were received when they first entered the country?  Also, how long do biases last? And if you can’t get into the ingroup, can you at least get into a more desirable outgroup?

Being an immigrant, I can relate to many issues raised in this article. People, especially teachers, had expectations of me based on my race. I hated them for stereotyping me and I hated myself for disappointing them when I didn’t meet their expectations. But times have changed, and I agree with the authors that we have made great strides in being more inclusive. However, we still have a long way to go. 

I really feel sorry for those who engage in “othering” behavior. I grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. My apartment building was filled with people from many different ethnic backgrounds and all walks of life. These wonderful people made my childhood very special and my interactions with them helped shaped the person I am today. Being exposed to a diversity of thought from a young age has informed everything I think, read, and write. 

Widening the “circle of human concern” is a great concept and reaching out to marginalized groups is definitely a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough.  Philosophically, I like the author’s solutions. They sound wonderful and inspirational, but what can we do on an individual level to reach those in the outgroups?

I think that too many people refuse to come out of their comfort zones. My advice to everyone is to place yourself in situations where you can meet a wide variety of people. Consider their points of view and listen to their stories. 

Why Do I Write?

I have always had a love-hate relationship with writing. When I was in second grade, my teacher wrote in big red letters on my report card “Reading and writing below grade level.” I was crushed. I thought I understood what was going on in class, despite the fact that English was not my first language. Back then, there was no such thing as ESL classes. All of us non-English speaking kids got thrown into mainstream classrooms and it was either sink or swim. Afterwards, for years I loathed writing.

In high school, this all changed. I had two fantastic teachers who taught me how to write an essay. For the first time, I was given an outline and it made a world of difference in how I approached all of my future writing assignments. All of a sudden, there was some semblance of order. Things started to fall into place. I was no longer terrified of putting my thoughts on paper. Many people think that the five-paragraph essay is formulaic and hinders creativity. I agree with this to a certain extent, but it at least gave my thoughts and writing structure. I now had a format and a starting point. My writing became focused and purposeful and this in turn gave me the confidence to let my words flow. 

In college, I wrote numerous essays and term papers. I worked late into the early hours of the morning to make sure my ideas made sense and actually addressed the prompt. I no longer feared writing assignments. In fact, I became a pretty good academic writer. For four years, the essay mill in my head was working overtime churning out paper after paper. I don’t remember ever getting any grade below a B+, so I was quite proud of my hard work. 

I kept all of my papers in a large file folder and reread them at the end of senior year and couldn’t help thinking how boring and impersonal they were. It occurred to me that for all the research and time I spent writing there was not an ounce of who I really was in any of these papers. They may have been good technically, but no reader would ever get to know the real me from reading these essays. This didn’t bother me at the time, as I had no interest in writing beyond the classroom. I never thought I would need my writing skills again after I graduated from college – and I was glad.

So how on earth did I end up working for a magazine – a business one, no less?  Actually, I was working in the statistical department, no writing required, just lots of number crunching. I got bored after a year, so when my boss offered to let me write the cover story for a major issue, I jumped at the chance. The essay mill started churning again, but this time, I was getting paid, and seeing my name in print was exciting. However, the excitement was short-lived. It was still technical writing, something I vowed to stay away from. 

Well, no problem. A few years later I gave birth to my first child and stopped working altogether. I was done with writing forever – or so I thought. Actually, for the longest time, I couldn’t write even if I wanted to. I had three children in four years. I didn’t have the time or energy to pick up a pen (yes, I love pen and paper). I was too pleasantly immersed in diapers and play dates to think about anything not baby-related.

During this time, I didn’t do any writing, but I did read quite a bit and became very interested in biographies and memoirs. In addition, my children were always asking me to tell them stories about my childhood, so I decided to start writing my own personal essays. This was all very new to me. I was used to writing about the economy, not stories about my life. I have found that I really enjoy revisiting my past and sharing stories about old relatives with my children. In these last few years I have felt an urgency to get all my recollections down on paper before I forget them. Among all of my siblings, I am the only one who writes, so I have been designated the family historian. 

This is why I decided to pursue a Masters degree at Kean. My writing skills are rusty and I need guidance on how to navigate this new chapter in my life. I am also not the least bit tech savvy, so the idea of learning through social and digital media excites me. The best part about taking these new classes is that it is purely for enjoyment and self-fulfillment. I am in no rush to earn a degree and embark on a new career. This time around, I am writing to please myself.