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Tutoring ESL Students

In the article Tutoring ESL Students: Issues & Options, English professors and authors Muriel Harris and Tony Silva discuss the roles of tutors when it comes to teaching ESL students. The author’s main points explain that as non-native English speakers, ESL students need individualized attention that teaching requires. The authors explain that when language is the barrier, the best teaching strategy is “one-to-one setting where the focus of attention is on that particular student and his or her questions, concerns, cultural presuppositions, writing processes, language learning experiences, and conceptions of what writing in English is all about” (525).  In the article, they provide strategies and tips for tutoring ESL students. One very important strategy that the authors mention at the beginning of the article is that tutors should take into consideration multiculturalism. ESL students are multilingual and have prior language and/or writing skills. This is important to understand because tutors should not approach the transfer as negative or positive but as a different way of learning for these students. This will make the relationship between tutor and student more bearable and productive. After all, the authors state that “understanding and accommodating cultural differences are, to a great extent, what ESL instruction is all about” (p.527).

The first approach that Harris and Silva suggest is for tutors to become aware of a student’s rhetorical preference in writing.  This is important to know because then they will prioritize what is most important to fix. Instead of trying to correct every error,  tutors should categorize what is the most important things to fix in order to resolve the general problem. These problems include mistakes in grammar (verbs, nouns, articles, preposition),  rhetorical approach and vocabulary choices. The authors urge tutors not to simply tell ESL student how to fix errors but provide “them with strategies that will make them effective, independent writers” (531).

In a research review conducted by Silva comparing ESL and native English speakers writing style, the results showed that ESL writers write the way that “sounds right” as compared to native English writers. In order to fix this problem and help students become independent writers, the authors suggest that tutors should read out loud with their students.  This is often difficult because ESL students are expecting tutors to correct all the grammatical errors in their paper. This is a problem the authors mention in the relationship between tutor and student. Instead of learning the rules, “ESL writers often come to the writing center seeking an editor, someone who will mark and correct their errors and help them fix the paper.” (pg. 530). On the other hand, tutors “want to begin with rhetorical concerns before looking at sentence-level matters” (pg.531). Both parties should negotiate an approach that will have the best learning outcome and that is for ESL student to learn and know the rules, not just told how to fix their grammar mistakes on a paper, also tutors should do their best to accommodate a multilingual learning style.

I thought the most important approach in the article was the first point the authors mentioned, which is for tutors to understand that ESL students do have prior learning and writing skills. These skills are already there, tutors need to bring out these skills in the context of learning a difficult language.

Read the Article Here

Blog 8: Tutors as Writing Collaborators/ Our Group Collaboration

Last week we brainstormed the start of some ideas for our group project. All week I have been thinking about Serken’s idea of a “potluck display.” There are so many creative directions this idea can go, and it seems like we could use it as a jumping off point for each person’s individual interest. My understanding was different “writings” on small strips of paper served up as a potluck meal. Everyone brings their dish, and together we share it as a meal. In the spirit of revising, or “re-visioning,” I thought maybe we could work independently of some piece of writing and take it through several drafts that will be shared in our group meetings. We will have a chance to work with some of the pedagogical theories we read in class regarding feedback, etc. In this class and also Children’s Lit we have been talking about the willingness to cut out the parts of our work that we feel are most precious. In the spirit of all of these ideas, we can take a final draft and shred it into strips and “serve” at our potluck. This idea of a potluck reminded me of a saying that my friend has: “word salad.” She uses this phrase when someone is talking and saying nothing. Maybe together we can make the side salad out of a collection of fake news?

Our reading this week was entitled, Tutoring ESL Students: Issues and Options, by Muriel Harris and Tony Silva.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/358388?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

The gist of this article to me is that learning a second language is a long slow process, a journey. The ultimate goal is real learning and writing improvement over time, not just a polished paper, no matter the language background. Language proficiency is the goal for everyone, both for second language learners and for native English speakers.
I have always lived and worked in an environment where people of all backgrounds and cultures were thrown into the same learning environment. Connecting to all different kinds of people has been one of my favorite parts of working in the arts. While there are both strong and weak teachers in every area, I have been fortunate to have some incredible mentors along the way. One of the things I have treasured in my favorites has been accountability for the learning process of students. I was taught at a young age, that if a student doesn’t understand, then it is my job as the teacher to find another way to explain. When language is the barrier, it is my job to move that student beyond that barrier. It is my responsibility to be aware, observant and creative. I take that responsibility seriously and have found it to be one of my favorite parts of being a teacher. I appreciated having these points outlined through the lens of responsibility of an ESL Tutor. The authors state this point concisely in this phrase: “Understanding and accommodating cultural differences are, to a great extent, what ESL instruction is all about (p.527).”

One of the most critical points in the article came toward the end but struck me as an important starting place. The authors address the idea of managing expectations and setting goals. “ESL students need to know that tutors are expected to help them with strategies that will make them effective, independent writers. We need to explicitly state that tutors are supposed to be educators, not personal editors (p. 532.)” This point is important in any learning environment. Not only are there different languages in a room, but there are also different learning styles. Some people are visual learners. Some people are auditory learners. As a teacher, I learn so much from these differences. When expectations are clear, miscommunication can be minimized, and connection maximized. I loved the reminder of the quote by Steve North regarding the goal of a tutor: “to produce better writers, not better writing.” Ironically, by helping the writer clarify their process, it is likely that the writing will improve. I also love the reminder to resist the urge to tell students how to do things. Instead, the authors encouraged tutors to offer opportunities for the student to explore and find their solutions. When English proficiency impedes that process, then the tutor may need to be creative in solutions or opportunities to practice rhetorical skills.
I like the learning hierarchies presented in this article and find them to be great metaphors for other forms of teaching as well. For example, begin by looking for what has been done well in the paper, acknowledge that, and go from there. Then prioritize among errors. Distinguish between errors that will interfere with the intended reader’s understanding of the text (global errors) and those that will not (local errors) and to give priority to the former (p.526). When the learning goals are clear, students tend to be more likely to embrace the slow process described by Harris and Silva; with emphasis on the composing process (p.529). I see it as an invitation to engage. I know from my own experience that I tend to remain in the superficial aspects of learning when I have not received clear guidance or a roadmap to the learning journey. In the writing context, that would translate to an emphasis on the quick fix of sentence structure.
One of my mentors used to remind new teachers that 80% of our job is repetition in some form. She would reiterate that this is most important to remember when we feel we have been repeating something many times and someone or several people are not “getting it.” When I as the teacher am most frustrated, I have to call on my reserves to find yet another way to clarify something. In the writing context, it is especially important to remember, that “the rules of English vary in terms of level of usefulness (p. 534).” Creative repetition is essential. Not only is the ESL writing student dealing with the time-consuming learning process; they are also contending with the extraordinary abnormalities of the English language.

Tutoring ESL Students: Tutors to the Rescue!

“We should recognize that along with different linguistic backgrounds, ESL students have a diversity of concerns that can only be dealt with in the one-to-one setting where the focus of attention is on that particular student and his or her questions, concerns, cultural presuppositions, writing processes, language learning experiences, and conceptions of what writing in English is all about” (Harris and Silva, 525).

esl

This was a great article to pick up where I left off from my first presentation about teaching in a multilingual world. After hitting the shell of how teachers and students are becoming more accustomed to multilingual students and integration of different types of speakers in a single classroom setting, this article hits the core of one of the major problems in our learning-teaching environment, which is tutoring ESL students. Muriel Harris and Tony Silva, educators and authors of this article talk about the importance of ESL requiring “individualized attention” to become proficient writers. They break down the problems in the writing centers, but they also suggest how tutoring ESL students could be improved. Throughout the reading, they emphasize that aside from ESL students having different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, there are various learning styles across the board. The key is to find what strategies and learning styles work for each individual student. What I also found interesting was that Harris and Silva also shine a light on how teaching style works for the tutor for them to teach and guide the students in the right direction in their writing.

The authors brought up a point about tutoring ESL students that I had not thought about before. The students want to know the rules, not just told how to fix their grammar mistakes on a paper. “Although tutors do not work primarily on grammar and mechanics, some ESL writers-especially those whose first acquaintance with English was as a foreign language taught in classrooms in other countries have a tendency to want to know rules” (Harris and Silva, 530). ESL students should not be cheated out of the experience of learning English but should be granted the same opportunity and time that native speakers of English are given. (Simply my personal opinion). This connects with another problem that was brought up; some ESL students would rather have the grammatical errors corrected for them by the tutors instead of learning the rules. This puts the tutors in an awkward position where they are not able to do their job effectively. Thus leading to low productivity from the tutor and the student. The role of a tutor is not to simply tell the student what is right or wrong in their papers. “ESL students need to know that tutors are expected to help them with strategies that will make them effective, independent writers” (Harris and Silva, 531). A tutor should be given a high level of respect, and we (in the educator world) need to stand behind these tutors and defend them as real educators, even though they are not in the traditional academic setting.

One strategy that Harris and Silva suggest that would help ESL students excel in learning English and having sessions with their tutors is reading out loud. The students are able to find more mistakes, and it helps. However, the con to an ESL student using this strategy is that not all students can edit “by ear.” These students are not at a certain level of English proficiency to hear what mistakes are being made on their papers. With the help of a tutor, who is a native speaker of English could read their work out loud and guide them through this strategy.

The last point I would like to make is that there is research available for tutors on what ESL writers have the most issues. According to this research, Harris, and Silva state that there are, “four error types account for most of the errors made by ESL writers with a fairly high level of English proficiency…”(534). Those four are “verbs, nouns, articles, and prepositions.” My presentation will discuss further the specifics of each category. At the end of the day, teaching ESL students are about help and guidance. “Understanding and accommodating cultural differences is, to a great extent, what ESL instruction is all about. This is especially true when working with students who are very new to and not very cognizant of the workings of American culture” (Harris and Silva, 528). 

Writing Comments on Student Papers

As a teacher, it comes without saying that you are expected to grade papers. It is an inevitable task that is part of the job responsibility. Teachers of all grade levels from grade school to college have graded student papers in the course of their career. Even so, grading papers is a challenging task that can either hurt or help students when it comes to writing. In his essay Writing Comments on Student Papers, author John Bean discusses this topic and provides several strategies on how best to complete this task.

It is true that teachers do read a massive amount of papers. Often times they are reading papers that are not the best writing and as a result, they let their irritation show on the page by writing harsh or sarcastic comments on student papers. Bean makes a differentiation in those comments, he states that the best kind of comments: “enhance writers feeling of dignity” in comparison, the worst kind of comments are “dehumanizing and insulting”. Even though teachers want students to write better papers they don’t often show that in their comments. Students often read teacher comments and get discouraged and think that they are not good writers. In order to show the reaction of students, Bean presents a 1990 study conducted by researches Spandel and Siggins. In the section Students Responses to Teacher Comments, several students were interviewed to show the reaction of teacher comments on their papers. The comments were “needs to be more concise”, “you haven’t really thought this through”, “try harder”. As you can expect the result of these negative comments, (although well-intentioned) tend to “make students feel bewildered, hurt, or angry” (pg. 319). This is what Bean urges teachers to stay away from. Additionally, in another study (conducted at a large midwestern university), the best form of feedback is the mitigated criticism, a type of feedback that combines both positive and negative comments. This result correlates with Bean’s argument that in order to improve techniques for commenting on student papers “we need to remember our purpose, which is not to point out everything that is wrong with the paper but to facilitate improvement” (pg.321).
I expected the result of these studies to favor the more positive comments because students are encouraged to change their papers when they are not bombarded with comments that make them feel fearful and lack ambition.

Furthermore, Bean discusses the purpose of commenting on student papers, which he writes is to coach revision. When teachers first receive a student draft they should focus on identifying these main points.

  • Identify the thesis
  • does the draft follow the assignment?
  • where is the paper going?
  • what are the authors main ideas/arguments?
  • is the draft effectively organized?

If the paper lacks any of these essential elements the marginal comments should address it while being limited to a few problems.

The general strategy for commenting on drafts:

  • Comment on the tile and introduction
  • Comment on topic sentences
  • Comment on grammar, punctuation, and spelling

After giving coaching advice, Bean suggests that teachers should give students at least one week to edit their draft. That way they have ample time to make corrections and rethink about their papers. He also recommends that teachers allow rewrites.

I noticed that in the article Bean considers comments on grammar, punctuation, and spelling to be “lower-order concerns” (pg.330). Nevertheless, he makes it clear that when he suggests minimal marking he is not advocating for teachers to be soft on grading errors, but they should let students know that there will be points deducted off their papers if they do not make these corrections. I also agree with this idea because these small mistakes can easily get fixed by students and save teachers time.

OLD/ NEW Contract examples: 

screen-shot-2018-11-05-at-2-09-22-pm.png

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Another issue Bean discuss is the topic of writing style. This is apart from the concern of grammar errors. The writing style is based on technical language and the voice of a student. Although this is not a commenting issue, Bean suggests that teachers should address their pet peeve about style to their students (ex: chappy sentences, lazy use of “ this “ as a pronoun, etc) before they write comments.

Bean concludes his essay with a call to action for teachers to improve their grading. In order to make his point about this important part of grading, Bean makes a comparison to the butterflies. He writes that the end comment of a draft is like a butterfly without the metamorphosis. At this point of the writing, it is a caterpillar, however, with proper feedback and revision, it will become like a butterfly. I thought this was an excellent imagery of the writing process. In order for teachers to enhance positive emotion, the final comments should show

1) show the strengths of the paper
2) include Summary of a limited number of problems
3) include recommendations for revision
Overall, I thought the article was a great piece of advice for teachers and any other profession that grade student papers. I agree that teacher comments should be a guiding light that allows students to achieve their highest quality of work. Most importantly, teacher comments should encourage students to take pleasure in redoing their papers correctly.

Read The Artice Here! 

Enhancing Cognition

I found Writing Comments on Student’s Papers, by John Bean, (From the book entitled: Engaging Ideas. The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking and Active Learning in the Classroom), to be a very juicy read.

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B5–sMS-4u43fnFiOHBMVzJjSW1lLVJDN3V3YXVIcXZzNmstdUxNXzQ5eWl2SUlQVVo3NVE

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/teachinglearninginitiatives/engaging-ideas-professors-guide-integrating-writing-critical-thinking

Ok, that sounds totally nerdy. But I am entirely intrigued by theories of learning and how to access the brain. I love to investigate ways to help people, myself included, understand things and receive information more thoroughly and efficiently. Or framed a different way, what are the things that keep someone from being receptive to what is being taught. In the past ten years, I have simultaneously been a mother responsible for the learning/ learning challenges of three kids, an undergrad adult student back in school after 25 years and a teacher in the theater department at New York University, with anywhere from 20-60 students a semester. This article was both a feast of new information as well as a validation of my explorations and understandings.

Immediately on the first page of Bean’s article, I was drawn in. He states, “The best kind of commentary enhances the writer’s feeling of dignity. The worst kind can be dehumanizing and insulting.” (P317) These thoughts have become common in many learning environments. The jargon of positive reinforcement is superficially everywhere, from preschool on up. The execution of these ideas varies on such a huge level depending on the teacher’s ability to embrace what goes into the learning process truly. In my experience, the wrong kind of praise as “positive reinforcement” can be equally as destructive. I appreciate that Bean takes the time to unfold strategies for reframing and bringing out the strengths of students. He is not offering praise before work ethic. He describes techniques that encourage effort.

Bean goes on to quote James Zull regarding The Amygdala and the Teacher, laying a scientific foundation for his theory. According to Zull, “A learner will be quickly and subconsciously monitoring the situation through the amygdala (the primitive fear center or danger center of the brain).” Fear-based resistance is something I have experienced repeatedly in my work at NYU. The department I work in is movement-based theater. The focus is on generating original material with an integrated approach to physicality and text. My success as a teacher in that environment depends on identifying what makes each student uncomfortable and sharing tools for calming their nervous system so they can be receptive to what I have to offer. Any art form is likely to make the artist feel vulnerable when revealing their work. Whether it is writing, theater, dance, music, painting or anything else, the work is an extension of the self. As Zull states, the primitive fear/danger center of the brain will be on high alert.
Curiosity led me to investigate more of Zull’s work. Here are some fabulous nuggets from
The Art of Changing the Brain, by James Zull that illustrate the foundation for Bean’s statement:

“Positive emotions enhance cognition.”

http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el200409_zull.pdf

“Don’t Explain. Build on Errors. I (Zull) began to welcome errors. They became my raw materials for helping students build knowledge. Instead of thinking that my job was to eradicate error, I sought it out. Engage the Whole Brain (See figure 1 below). Two decades ago, David Kolb (1984) proposed a cycle of learning that is compatible with these four brain regions. Kolb asserted that deep learning comes through a sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction, and active testing. Learning Is the Brain’s Business. Practice and meaning are the most important parts of this art, but of course, students will not practice in a meaningful way unless they care. Have faith in the process.”

(fig. 1): sensory cortex (getting information); integrative cortex near the sensory cortex (making meaning of information); integrative cortex in the front (creating new ideas from these meanings); and motor cortex (acting on those ideas).

Along these lines, Bean encourages coaching writing rather than judging it, which requires a consistent philosophy and a plan (p322). As I have observed my children move through different learning environments, I have been struck by how often both harsh criticism and flimsy praise have been used to hide mediocre and lazy teaching. A good teacher has a balance of praise and challenge, no matter what they are teaching.
I found many helpful tips in the reading.
As the teacher, your role changes throughout the process: Early drafts: coach. End phase: Judge
“The best strategy is to limit your comments to a few problems that you want the student to tackle.
Establish a hierarchy of concerns:
Higher Order of concerns: ideas, organization, development, and overall clarity
The lower order of concerns: sentence correctness, style, mechanics, spelling and so forth
Proceed to lower order concerns only after a draft is reasonably successful

It seems like it should be so simple.
“Positive comments build confidence and make the writer want to try again. Negative comments, no matter how well-intentioned, tend to make students feel bewildered, hurt or angry.” Bean clarifies, “HOWEVER, there is a trick to writing good positive comments: They MUST be truthful, and the MUST be specific.” Theis such a helpful distinction.

I also loved the focus on the process, what I consider the heart of the work. Bean establishes the importance of guiding revision. “Revising doesn’t just mean editing; It means “re-visioning”- rethinking, reconceptualizing, “seeing again.” This is hard work (p321). It is helpful to be reminded that good writing takes work.

I loved the way Bean approaches grammar and the “lower order concerns.”
The “knotty problem” of lower order concerns such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling. (p330) Make students responsible for their editing. I like his distinction regarding minimal marking.
“I am not advocating being soft on error. I am arguing that students’ errors should be noted emphatically and that some stick-and-carrot strategy should be applied to motivate students to find and fix them.” (p330)
Bean’s top three peeves: (P332)
• Wordiness: “I prefer a succinct, plain style unclogged by deadwood or circumlocutions.”
• Broad Reference: Lazy use of “this” as a pronoun. Some writers try to create coherence by using this as a pronoun to link backward. Sometimes this refers to a noun in the preceding sentence, but more often it is meant to stand for a whole idea.
• Choppy sentences/Excessive coordination: beginning writers often string together a sequence of short sentences or simply join them with coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, so, or but. Excessive coordination creates a choppy effect that fails to distinguish between more important and less important material.

There were some additional readings that this article led me too:

Writing as a Mode of Learning, by Janet Emig
https://www.jstor.org/stable/356095?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

and

Descartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, by Antonio R. Damasio
https://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/descartes-error_antonio-damasio.pdf

The Mighty Red Pen

One of the most frustration aspects of being a teacher is the inability to communicate properly with the students. With all the good intentions considered, the instructions do not always lend with the students as one would hope. Especially in terms of offering feedback on their written assignments. The negligence of the person who wrote the piece while correcting it is certainly a major issue that needs to be emphasized. This tends to happen when the instructor feels overwhelmed, or dismissive due to personal reasons, but most of the time it is simply lack of knowledge about how to properly handle it.

The article, Writing Comments on Students Papers, by John Bean is a fantastic read that offers many key points. I have specifically chosen this article because my biggest struggle has always been with offering proper feedback to my students on their writings. My intention was not only to present it in the class but also to study it. I can safely say that the article has met with my expectations. It is one of the most informative and effective articles included in our course. There are so many things to extract from it and utilize in the future.

The first major issue the article addresses is the lack of sensitivity in correcting papers. Instructors tend to reflect their irritations on their feedback on the paper by removing the person from the equation; neglecting their feelings and distinct personalities. The point of correcting, in itself, is to facilitate improvement. That aspect seems to be lost for many. John Bean introduces the quote by William Zinsser in the article that explicitly reflects that point:“The writing teacher’s ministry is not just to the words but to the person who wrote the words.” A key concept of solving this issue seems to be mitigating. It is basically mixing positive feedback with the negative in order to “mitigate the feelings of inadequacy” of the student. Thus, “evoking feelings of hope and confidence rather than failure” becomes the goal of the instructor.

It is also beneficial to remind ourselves of our roles during the writing process for a more efficient instruction. John Bean describes two specific roles that we should consider: “At the drafting stage, our role is couch. At the end of the writing process, our role is judge.” This is an interesting distinction that could help raise sensitivity and allow for a more considerate approach to correcting and commenting. The drafting stage is when the students display their strengths and weaknesses in writing. As “the couch”, we need to offer them “good advice and warm encouragement” at that point in order to facilitate improvement. Students also adapt revising, which means “seeing again” and not just editing. Couching them to improve their vision is definitely a crucial role that needs to be realized. Although it is possible to exercise both the roles of couch and judge simultaneously, a solid distinction could easily prevent risky confusions for many.

As a way of preparation for the writing process, John Bean states that “making our pet peeves known to the students” before they began is also a good idea to avoid a certain amount of frustration later on. These “pet peeves” are meant to include specific mistakes that most writing students frequently make. That way, focus of errors could be shifted from more general ones to more personal and individually specific ones.

The article also introduces a hierarchy for the concerns that need to be observed. Certain types of error tend to be more concerning than others. So, the attention of the instruction should be directed toward the more concerning issues primarily. These higher-order issues include things such as ideas, organization, and development. They tend to be more rhetorical and they form the necessary foundation. These elements also cause stronger discontent for the students in case of struggle; specifically constructing the introduction paragraph and identifying a thesis. Sometimes, the draft “follows the order of the writer’s discovery process and the thesis becomes clear only in conclusion” due to that struggle. Hence, the instructors need to focus on them more during the drafting stage. The lower-order issues such as grammar, spelling, and style could be addressed better at a final stage. John Bean suggests instructors to encourage their writing students to utilize “old/new contract”, which is linking the old concepts with the new ones, in their writings for better cohesiveness and avoid confusion for the reader. Simply put, the beginning sentence of a paragraph serves as a link to a known information and the new one is introduced later.

It is also important to note that the amount of errors found on a student paper could be misleading. A closer observation might reveal links or correlations among those errors because a specific error might be simply repeated throughout the paper. That discovery would make the correcting aspect much easier for the instructor, and for the student as well. By simply tracing it to its source, a repeated error could be eliminated more efficiently.

Something else that needs to be touched upon, even before getting into correcting, is making sure the student’s writing follows the assignment as expected. The article does not appear to go into details of this particular issue but it could be quite crucial. John Bean simply mentions that the student needs to be informed in case his or her essay is not compatible with the given topic and unfortunately there is no in-depth analysis of the impact of informing the student. Based on my own experience, students who struggle with writing, especially second language learners, tend to be extremely discouraged by that information. Often times, those students simply refuse to rewrite their papers because they believe that they utterly failed. This is a perfect topic of discussion for the class that I’m actually planning on bringing up.

The final point of importance to extract from the article is proper end comments. John Bean states that the end comments should encourage revision for excellence. He warns us by saying:“Do not justify your grading” in the end comments. Instead, he offers a three-step template to follow for a more effective and encouraging alternative. The first step is pointing out the strengths. As stated above, “evoking feelings of hope” is very important. The second step is summarizing a limited number of problems that need to be figured out. These problems need to be prioritized for the reasons mentioned earlier. The third, and the last, step is offering specific recommendations for revision. The more specific and clear the recommendation, the better. If possible, offering examples would also be a good idea.

Overall, this article was simply excellent. The author, John Bean, addressed many important issues and offered sound solutions, or possibilities, that will certainly improve writing pedagogy for many instructors –including me. Correcting students’ papers might be overwhelming at times, even frustrating, but it is absolutely important to remember the student who is eagerly awaiting an encouraging feedback. As the author suggests in the article, we should “not grade it as a teacher, instead criticize it as a reader” for a more personal connection with our students.

Be the Coach for Commenting!

“When teachers give students good problems to think about-and involve them actively in the process of solving these problems-they are deepening students’ engagement with the subject matter, promoting their intellectual growth, and increasing the pleasure of learning both students and teachers.” -John C. Bean Writing Comments on Students’ Papers (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B5–sMS-4u43fnFiOHBMVzJjSW1lLVJDN3V3YXVIcXZzNmstdUxNXzQ5eWl2SUlQVVo3NVE)

The rich content of this article allowed me to learn more about the “behind the scenes” of teaching. There is so much that I want to discuss that I may need to write a separate blog post! The introduction to the article starts with a bang but directly hitting the problem. There is “messiness” when it comes to teachers comments on papers. The treatment of the paper that a student submits lacks sensitivity and clarity. With Bean’s clear and articulate way of explaining how to make this process better, there is plenty of great material to take away from.

Depending on how a teacher writes his or her comments, Bean explains the extreme effect that it would have on the student’s reaction. It could either “enhance the writer’s feeling of dignity,” or it could “dehumanize and insult” the student without the teacher even realizing it. The truth of the matter is when a teacher comments on a student’s paper, their intentions are not to dishearten or discourage them from the work they did, but there is a lack of communication. “Part of the problem is that our comments on students’ papers are necessarily short and therefore cryptic” (Bean, 318). Bean uses the example of tennis, but I would like to use texting as my comparison. During a heated argument or sometimes a normal conversation, communicating through text messages is a “trap” for miscommunication and misinterpretation. If you are not specific, then the messages will be misread. The same goes for commenting on students’ papers. Comments such as “I’m confused” or “be specific!”, Can truly upset the student. This leads to students not wanting to revise, which is a crucial part of the writing and learning process.

Another part of the problem, which is linked to revision as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, is not giving students enough time to revise from the comments that were present on their paper.

“When we comment on papers, the role we should play is that of a coach providing guidance for revision, for it is in the act of revising that our students learn most deeply what they want to say and what their readers need for ease of comprehension. Revising doesn’t mean just editing; it means “re-visioning”-rethinking, reconceptualizing, ‘seeing again.’ It is through the hard work of revising that students learn how experienced writers really compose” (Bean, 321).

What I appreciated about Bean’s article is how he gives tips and strategies for teachers on how to comment on students’ papers. One of the strategies was, “If you comment on drafts, you’ll probably need to do so at least a week before students are to submit their finished papers” (Bean, 321). Being a student, I have struggled with this problem on more than one occasion. I would receive my paper with comments, but I was not allowed to fix them because it was considered a “final draft.” (Even though that was only my first time receiving comments). The second issue I faced did not have enough time to revise my comments. The main thought here, think of coaching rather than judging.

I want to talk about briefly is the topic of grading draft papers. In my notes I wrote, “Okay, can we talk about this?!”. I’m not sure if it’s policy from the “higher up,” which would be out of the teacher’s control to grade a draft paper. I never understood the effectiveness behind that. If it is a draft, then why is it being graded? There should be an overall encouraging and constructive tone when it comes to teachers giving comments to students. With the method of grading a draft, it becomes more about a grade than about learning and revising.

The last part of the article that made me think of a few questions was when Bean talked about using marginal comments to note where the teacher was confused or lost. Being more specific and detailed with your comment instead of saying, “I’m confused.” Although that is probably very effective, I don’t really find it realistic. Teachers have an overwhelming amount of work, including grading and commenting on papers for a large number of students just for one class. At a collegiate level, there are fewer students, but the amount of work is more, such as longer papers. Maybe having multiple drafts will help solve this problem. This was an insightful and helpful article that I will be referring back to in the future once I start to teach.

“When teachers give students good problems to think about-and involve them actively in the process of solving these problems-they are deepening students’ engagement with the subject matter, promoting their intellectual growth, and increasing the pleasure of learning for both students and teachers” (Bean, 336). 

The Football Stadium of Social Media

Last year was my final year as a Political Science major in the undergraduate program of Kean. In our capstone presidency class, we spent a great deal of time discussing the Russian Probe, the Mueller investigation and election hacking. These were all phrases referring to roughly the same thing: Trump’s involvement with Russian interference of the 2016 presidential election. Conversations were heated. Emotions were high. But at the end of the day, I don’t think any of us fully understood the mechanisms at play or how each one of us had performed a role. Many of the details of the investigation are confidential because there is an ongoing case. More of the details are redacted because the government is involved. And when I see the word ‘hacking,’ I assume that I don’t understand it and move on to things that I will comprehend.

I found the article, ‘How Social Media Took Us From Tahrir Square to Donald Trump,’ by Zeynep Tufekci, to be incredibly insightful and illuminating. The article calls into question various information gatekeepers and discusses how technology, social media and search engines “create an environment where misinformation thrives, and even true information can confuse and paralyze rather than informing and illuminating.”

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611806/how-social-media-took-us-from-tahrir-square-to-donald-trump/

The article is broken into five sections which progress through the evolution of the internet, social media and their relationship to fake news from the Arab Spring to the Trump presidency. The first section, The Euphoria of Discovery, covers the importance of technology in the Arab Spring, 2011. Activists were emboldened in spite of being shut down by the Egyptian government. Social media was touted, as article mentions, as eliminating “pluralistic ignorance—the belief that one is alone in one’s views when in reality everyone has been collectively silenced.”

Section two, The Audacity of Hope, Tufecki mentions, “we entered a period of the technology powering the underdog.” Barack Obama. The Arab spring. However, there was also the emergence of microtargeting, especially on Facebook. Havoc was being wreaked with the public sphere, first in small ways which would devolve into deep problematic ways. Tufecki claims, “it was a shift from a public, collective politics to a more private, scattered one, with political actors collecting more and more personal data to figure out how to push just the right buttons, person by person and out of sight.” The implications are insidious and far-reaching.

Section 3, The Illusion of Immunity, Tufecki points out that “the US National Security Agency had an arsenal of hacking tools based on vulnerabilities in digital technologies—bugs, secret backdoors, exploits, shortcuts in the (very advanced) math, and massive computing power.” There was considerable debate during this time about how much surveillance is too much surveillance. For many Edward Snowden became the hero that revealed the extent of government surveillance on US citizens. For others, he was a traitor that single-handedly threatened US national security by exposing secrets. Most feel some sense of relief that behind the scenes, someone is protecting the nation from invasion. Tufecki begins to lay the groundwork in this section for the understanding that the US has offensive strength, but not defensive integrity.

Section 4, The Power of Platforms, emphasizes the significance of Twitter and its popularity with journalists as well as politically engaged people. Tufecki states, “Its open philosophy and easygoing approach to pseudonyms suits rebels around the world, but it also appeals to anonymous trolls who hurl abuse at women, dissidents, and minorities.” It has been a breeding ground for shallow discourse and dispute. Tufecki references the popular “rapid-fire format,” which provides tools to virtual private networks, while simultaneously allowing one to cover one’s traces online. These networks then used these tools to set up fake local news organizations on social media across the US. She reveals these very troubling details, “There they started posting materials aimed at fomenting polarization. The Russian trolls posed as American Muslims with terrorist sympathies and as white supremacists who opposed immigration. They posed as Black Lives Matter activists exposing police brutality and as people who wanted to acquire guns to shoot police officers. In so doing, they not only fanned the flames of the division but provided those in each group with evidence that their imagined opponents were indeed as horrible as they suspected. These trolls also incessantly harassed journalists and Clinton supporters online, resulting in a flurry of news stories about the topic and fueling a (self-fulfilling) narrative of polarization among the Democrats.”

And we, the liberal-minded socially conscious fell for it hook, line and sinker. I like to think I am reasonably intelligent and tend to question the source of the material I read. The insidious nature of the fake news campaign was subtle in its blatancy. I finally understand at the core, the Russian involvement in the election and how I indirectly played a role in electing Trump. If I don’t understand, and people like me don’t understand, then he will again be successful should he run in 2020. I joined those arguments on Facebook. I shared and posted and thought I was civically minded and accountable. Active. Engaged. When in fact, I was a political pawn. How un-evolved and childish in a way. While emotions can spawn great activist movements, longevity relies on analytical thinking and the power of developed rhetoric. This rapid-fire format of social media instead encourages quick, harsh comebacks rooted in emotion.

Section five, The Lessons of the Era, held some gems. Tufecki states that “Old gatekeepers failed in many ways, and no doubt that failure helped fuel mistrust and doubted; but the new gatekeepers succeed by fueling mistrust and doubt, as long as the clicks keep coming. Rather, the problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium.”
“Our cognitive universe isn’t an echo chamber, but our social one is. This is why the various projects for fact-checking claims in the news, while valuable, don’t convince people. Belonging is stronger than facts.” Social media and the internet make the world “more open and connected.” Tufecki closes with this csection with a compelling question, Open to what, and connected how?

Section 6, The Way Forward, left me with the understanding that we must always use our cognitive abilities to reflect on whether we are “joining the flock” or jumping into the mob mentality which in the end recreates the pluralistic ignorance we were hoping to abolish. I appreciated Tufecki’s interesting distinction: “it is the flow of attention, not information (which we already have too much of), that matters.”

Finally, this moving reminder: “Power always learns, and powerful tools always fall into its hands. This is a hard lesson of history but a solid one.” This is a call to grow beyond emotional content, to step out of the crossfire and use our cognitive ability. Digest material. Reflect. Analyze. Critically think. And then engage.

Social Media…Read for New Definition!

“Power always learns, and powerful tools always fall into its hands. This is a hard lesson of history but a solid one. It is a key to understanding how, in seven years, digital technologies have gone from being hailed as tools of freedom and change to being blamed for upheavals in Western democracies-for enabling increased polarization, rising authoritarianism, and meddling in national elections by Russia and others” -Zeynep Tufekci

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Taking a big jump from one serious topic to another, this week we took a look at social media and the “behind the scenes” of how there are certain aspects to it that we should be looking out for. The article, “How Social Media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump” by Zeynep Tufekci (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611806/how-social-media-took-us-from-tahrir-square-to-donald-trump/), brought to the light a lot of views of social media and politics that I certainly have never thought about before. Tufekci states, “to understand how digital technologies went from instruments for spreading democracy to weapons for attacking it, you have to look beyond the technologies themselves.” I thought this was interesting because when you look at the history of social media sites such as Twitter, the original purpose of it was to be used as an instrument. This ties into the discussion we had a couple of weeks ago about globalization. With the use of social media, globalization there is a great platform available but unfortunately has been abused and used for the “bickering of parties.”

Tufekci brought up a new term that I will gladly add to my “education dictionary,” which is “pluralistic ignorance.” She describes it simply as this, “the belief that one is alone in one’s views when in reality everyone has been collectively silenced.” She believes this is the reason why social media has “fomented” rebellion. She continues to discuss Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 elections and how the digital platform affected it. There were three ingredients that played a part in it were social media, voter profiling, and microtargeting. The positive side to it was that these digital platforms allowed certain communities and groups to come together in a different and new way. After reading this section, the question I thought about was how Barack Obama’s elections would be different if they were not in a social media world?

“Rather, the problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium” -Tufekci

Going from the article to her TED Talk “We’re Building a Dystopia just to make People Click on Ads,” expanded more on this topic. After watching the TED Talk, my views on social media changed. (Certainly creeped me out as well). Tufekci broke down the algorithms of Facebook and Youtube. Also, about the danger of artificial intelligence in the wrong hands. Her details about this were shocking and disturbing. She related the algorithms to the candy and gum placed near the checkout counter at the eye level of children for the parents to buy it for them. Specifically focusing on Youtube, it has a certain algorithm that picks up on what you think you would watch next. A personal example that she gave was when she was doing research on a Donald Trump rally. Youtube then suggested in the column “White Supremacists” videos. The more she clicked on the next one, the more extreme the videos became. That is how someone gets caught in the cycle of watching one video to watching thirty videos.

The last part that really shook me was how Trump’s media manager described how they targeted African American males not to vote. (Yes! You read that correctly). There is an algorithm actually convincing African American males NOT to vote. The reason why this shook me was that there are already restrictions that African American males have when it comes to not voting for various reasons that I can’t discuss further right now, but to actual target, such an influential group of people not to vote is…shall I say…evil.

Why was social media created in the first place? Were there any good intentions behind it or is it all a huge scam? Tufekci emphasizes that “we are the product that’s being sold.” We need to preserve our minds and intelligence. I leave you all with this, think about your social media. What is your platform used for? Can change actually be made or are we too deep in for change? My new definition of “social media”, a digital platform for reconstructing the ideas of globalization in politics, personal, and predominant ideas.

“What we need to fear most is not what artificial intelligence will do on its own, but how the people in power will use artificial intelligence to control us and to manipulate us in novel, sometimes hidden, subtle, and unexpected ways” –Zeynep Tufekci.

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Equal Learning- #UNBOUNDEQ

Hi all, it’s almost the end of this month and it seems like the first semester of grad school for me is flying by so quickly. Last week I was not feeling too well, even so, I’m glad I made it to class anyway. Congrats to Christina for an amazing presentation and class discussion.

Last week we viewed Kim Crenshaw’s powerful TED talk on the Urgency of Intersectionality. In her talk, she presents a case that highlights the issue of both gender and race in America. In her example, she described the case of an African-American woman who believed that she was being discriminated against in the workplace based on her dual identity as a woman who is black. The court, unfortunately, dismissed her case because they deemed it was unsolvable and there was a lack of evidence to support her claim. Nevertheless, Crenshaw makes a point that her case is a very common issue in America. Many other black women are overlooked and treated unfairly and they are getting no justice. Their cases go unreported in the media, unlike other white women and men. I thought Crenshaw’s argument was very powerful and edifying. From the very beginning when she mentioned the names of some of these victims, I did not recognize their names and was incognizant of their cases. This goes to show that violence and discrimination against black women in America is an unrepresented issue that we as a society must notice and make changes to resolve.

Furthermore, we also viewed a short video experiment from the Equity Unbound website (A class Divided). In this experiment, a classroom teacher (Jane Elliott) conducts a social experiment with her students. These young students were told at different times that because of the color of their eyes they were better than some other students. As a result, when the students believed they were superior they worked faster, were happier and had a more positive disposition overall. In contrast, when these same students were told because of the color of their eyes they were less competent, they behaved differently. This experiment proved that equality in the classroom is essential for a child’s learning experience. While this sociological experiment served as a moral research method we all agreed that in this day and age any teacher who tried an experiment like that would get fired. The topic of equal learning, however, should always be an important topic of discussion.

In regards to this topic, while we will not meet physically this week, I followed up with the Equity Unbound website and browsed the twitter conversations happening around the @mozillafestival and #unboundeq hashtag. The tweets allow learning to be inclusive and interactive. The materials present sources that are open to learning from others. I am excited to read some of the tweets happening soon and participate in the discussion on open learning and social media.

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