Tag Archives: Evaluating

Voice and Student’s Rights to their Own Texts

For me, the most important part of any writing exercise is that my audience, whether it be in a paper or on stage working out some new material, is that my voice is heard.  The idea of “our voice” is what helps us be heard. Not only what it is we are saying, but also the nuances of the feeling and emotion we want to give off in our piece. Once again, we take a dive with the GOAT Peter Elbow and analyze the academic relevance, and even push back on the idea of voice in writing.  I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see that there seemed to be a considerable amount of push back regarding the idea of voice. I guess it is naive of me to think that our voice should come through in all of the writing we do. Then again, these points of contention seem to be focused mostly on academic writing.  In the reading, Elbow talks about how writing is such a prominent part of everyday life, and we need to use our voices in these practical situations. The best example is in a professional sense when writing an email or some other type of correspondence. Voice is essential for the reader on the other end to pickup the tone and ultimately how you feel about what is being discussed.  I found this very true in my own experience. Writing professional emails has been a part of my repertoire for the past 3 and a half years since I completed my undergrad in finance. One thing I learned that helps immensely in this situation is to use your voice in writing so that the emotion you are feeling comes through. For example, if there is something that you are unhappy about, it is important to make sure the reader on the other end can pickup that you are unhappy.  It is the only way for the issue to get resolved. One of my favorite parts of the article is when Elbow begins to dissect all of the different manners in which we use our voice. He first goes into detail on how we usually fall into this trap where we take an adversarial stance. He describes it as the “Either/Or Battle.” I find myself falling into this whenever my friends and I have a healthy debate. It does not matter what it is we are discussing, we always try and prove ourselves right.  Inversely, we are trying to prove one another wrong (which I seldom am). This rings true throughout most of our daily lives, doesn’t it? We all have a voice we want people to hear, and we will make sure out view is heard and taken seriously, while also poking holes in others opinions and views. It is an interesting way to look at voice, but also find it to be the most poignant. The next is probably the most underutilized sense of voice, and that is compromise. For the reasons Elbow mentions above, we do not like to compromise.  In anything. However, I am aware of the power and the intelligence it takes to compromise. Think about what it is. When we compromise, it is likely viewed as a concession to our point and saying that we have “lost” in this instance. It can be viewed, and this is my own take, as a skill. For one to compromise, one must be aware and intelligent enough to understand that there are many ways at viewing the same things. An almost infinite spectrum for to learn, grow, and understand what it is we are discussing. I’ve always said the most important part of any person is their awareness, and being able to accept contraries and find common ground in a debate or disagreement is vital for ones growth as a person and, in this case, as a writer.  I will never agree with the idea that there are times where your voice should not be made clear in certain types of writing and presenting. Voice is authenticity, and I would rather live in a world of authenticity (good or bad) than one where people need to dumb down there thoughts or views to appeal to another group or person. “They see a debate between right and wrong when it’s really a choice between two lenses or “terministic screens” (to use Kenneth Burke’s term). We need both because each shows us something about language that the other obscures.” This quote from the article definitely because I have a philosophy I try and live by, and it is this idea that there are no such thing as truths, only perspectives. And allowing ourselves to see the value and potential “truth” in a contrary point of view, not only are you allowing yourself to be a more present citizen of the world, you are open to to the understanding that ones voice is a composite of an infinite number of variables that can shape a person in a particular way.  I really loved reading this article as it put some things in perspective, and gives me more confidence than ever to be able to use, and most importantly, never lose my voice. 

The Elbow reading went really well with Brannon and Knobloch’s idea that it can seem that students sometimes do not have rights to their own texts.  It goes hand in hand with what Elbow was trying to convey in the article about voice. A quote I found compelling in this second article, “rhetorically more experienced, technically more expert than their apprentice writers. Oddly, therefore, in classroom writing situations, the reader assumes primary control of the choices that writers make, feeling perfectly free to “correct.””  I think this does a great job of encapsulating what the issue is. Going back a few weeks, we talked about how students are seasoned to write whatever it that their instructor may want them to write. The reader, who is the teacher in this instance, is the judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to interpreting the writing and see if the student was “correct” in their analysis. Going back to the point I made earlier (sorry for all the jumps. I just think these articles work so well together!) what we may find to be truths may simply be our own interpretation of the material.  In an exercise as free and expressive as writing is, it is important that we stay mindful. And don’t get me wrong. I totally understand why teachers need to take these stances, and the duty it serves in being so critical of writing. But, just because something is an acceptable construct in our society does not mean there is another way of thinking about it. The authors continue to talk about how “We must replace our professional but still idiosyncratic models of how writing ought to appear, and put in their place a less authoritarian concern for how student texts make us respond as readers and whether those responses are congruent with the writers’ intentions or not.”  In short, we do not need to be less critical of student writing, but more open to the ideas the student is trying to portray, as long as things can be evidenced and defended. Voice works both ways; saying what we want in a manner in which we want, and the ability to take that dynamic and frame it in a way to understand what the writer is trying to say.  

Commenting and Evaluating Student Papers

This week we read three different articles that attack the same issue from somewhat different angles.  While I found the NCTE article to be similar and somewhat redundant from reading “Writing Comments on Student Papers,” I still found each article made good, unique points regarding the evaluation and accompanied feedback on student writing.  Peter Elbow’s “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking” was the first one that I had the chance to read and found that it brought some interesting thoughts to the theory behind evaluating student papers. I agree wholeheartedly with Elbow in the first section where he talks about the problem with ranking and holistic grading.  He first mentions how it is an unreliable way to grade student work. Paraphrasing Elbow, he believes that ranking students does not foster the best learning environment in terms of becoming a better writer. Instead, it puts the student writer in the precarious position of writing for the sake of what evaluator wants as opposed to truly exploring themselves and their ideas in their writing.  I found this to be particularly troubling as I read further into the article. To test this mode of evaluation, he cites a study where the same paper was distributed to a number of different english teachers. The study yielded eye-opening results as each teacher offered a different score for the same paper. Sort of ironically, you would expect a mode of grading used to be able to effectively rank and score students is actually quite ambiguous and does not have the universal grading principle it was thought to create.  This was when Elbow offered a solution of sorts to this problem. He talks about the idea of evaluating as a opposed to the ranking system that was previously discussed. Evaluation, from Elbow’s description seems like a much better way for teachers to score a students writing. There was one line from the article I felt helped to explain the rationale for using evaluation; “…takes account of the complex context of writing: who the writer is, what the writer’s audience and goals are, who we as readers and how we read, and how we might differ in our reading from other readers the writer might be addressing.”  Along this idea, Elbow mentions the utility of portfolios as a means for coming up with course grades at the end of the semester. I really liked this idea because it allows the evaluator to account for the growth of the student over the course of time, which allows the student to take the comments and suggestions as they come and apply them to their future writings. He does admit that evaluation is an imperfect way of evaluating student writing. Elbow goes on to mention that too much evaluation can lead students into a pattern of “trying to hide what they don’t understand and trying to impress.” He likens this idea to patients trying to hide symptoms from a doctor.  How are you supposed to get better if you do not show the doctor what is wrong? The same could be said about writing, meaning if you hide your deficiencies in your writing from the person evaluating it, then you will not advance your writing abilities. At the end, he talks about the importance of “liking.” I really enjoyed reading this section, especially as someone who writes and performs stand-up comedy. The reason being, as Elbow explains, is that is important that we like what we write. Further, that does not mean we cannot like it, and be critical and uncomfortable with it at the same time. As this idea pertains to my comedy, there have been many instances where I write a joke, and I like it a lot, but something seems off.  Whether it be the delivery, timing, wording, or its place in the flow of the entire act, there is something off. Just as Elbow explains, as long as I really like the joke that I have written, then it is just a matter of refining it and getting to a point where I go from liking it to loving it. I couldn’t tell you how many times that I have performed a joke and it bombs, yet I still walk off stage with a feeling of “there’s something there.”  

In the article “Writing Comments on Students’ Papers,” the ideas that are brought forth were spot on in my opinion.  The crux of what the article is telling us is that it is important to make the student feel encouraged to continue to write and continue to get better as a writer.  As the author phrased it, to “facilitate improvement.” This brought me back to high school where the comments I would receive from my teachers was often times somewhat vague without a sense of what it was I needed to fix.  It is not lost on me that comments need to be somewhat concise, but “You haven’t really thought this through.” is not enough for the student to work off of. I’ve found in my own experience, once you approach the instructor and inquire about the comments they leave on something that I have written, my teachers were very good at clearing up the points they made that I did not understand.  This, however, should not exonerate the teacher from giving good, useful comments on the writing from the very beginning. One other point from this reading I found really interesting was the idea that it is easier to learn something new when we attach that new piece of information to something that we already know. Looking back, it actually seems to ring true, and there is no better way to explain it than how we go through our education system.  It as a cumulation of the skills and knowledge we learn along our journey as students into the real world. It begs the question, as important as the matter is in terms of getting a job, just as important are the skills that we learn along the way. One last thing from this article I found to interest me was the idea of redundantly commenting on the same error multiple times in a writing sample. As the author described, it is important to tell the student where they made their mistakes, but also allowing them to rectify and correct them on their own.  It is mentioned that on many occasions the student makes the same error repeatedly in the same piece of work. Rather than just pointing it out wherever you see it, point it out once from one of the earliest examples of that error, and allow the student to go back and edit all of the other repeat mistakes themselves. I find this to be a brilliant way to encourage students to learn through their own errors and mistakes. It holds the student accountable for making the revisions, making it somewhat easier for the teacher to make an evaluation “Did they make all of the corrections I asked for,” it also allows the student to get their hands dirty and work through and learn the right way to approach and execute something they have seemed to be deficient in.  

The last article, from NCTE, seemed to simply reinforce what we read from the comments article.  I’d say the one big thing I took away from this reading, as it was mentioned in the other article, we seem to be at a place where teachers comments can damage the development of a student as a writer because their focus and emphasis turns from what their purpose for writing a given work is, to what the teachers comments are.  The issue is these comments set a standard for what the teacher is looking for. While they may end up with a “better” grade in the class, their writing skills do not necessarily advance.