The topic of this week’s article, John C. Bean’s “Writing Comments on Students’ Papers,” I’ve found, is riiiiiight up my alley. The more I read, the more I was like “hey that applies to me tutoring in the writing center” … “oh, that applies to–” “hey look, that, too.” Long story short, it was rad to agree with the majority of the points in an article.
The first thing that really resonated with me in the article was regarding sensitivity with editing students’ papers, seeing the student behind the words and remembering that that student is a person with feelings. One quote that stuck out to me was:
Even though we know how we ourselves feel when we ask a colleague to read one of our drafts (apologetic and vulnerable), we sometimes forget these feelings when we comment on students’ papers. Sometimes we do not treat students’ work in progress with the same sensitivity that we bring to our colleague’s work.
The best kind of commentary enhances the writer’s feeling of dignity. The worst kind can be experienced as dehumanizing and insulting. (Bean 317)
(First of all, feeling “apologetic and vulnerable” when showing someone my writing. I feel this, man. Big yikes.)
When I edit/tutor, I like to think that I’m sensitive with my critiques. It’s essential to our work in the writing center, with online tutoring, and with me among my friends when they throw writing at me and ask “HALp,” to which I say “buy me food and we’ll talk.”
I’m joking. Mostly.
Anyway. Bottom line, I try to be sensitive to writers’ feelings when I critique. Heck, I feel guilty pointing out too many comma issues in certain circumstances.
One funny exception comes to mind, though… My best friend (don’t worry, I asked if it was chill I tell this story) asks me to help her with her papers sometimes, and recently I helped her out with these little blurbs she had to write for job/volunteer applications. I was going over one such blurb (not a paper! I promise!) while we were hanging out together and started treating it more like a tutoring session (reading out loud, suggesting instead of editing, etc.). She stopped me several times, saying she didn’t wanna hear it and to just edit it myself and “make it sound good.”
(In the end, I said heck it and butchered away. I even made some quips about word choice at her. She didn’t take it personally. Twas more of a bonding moment. We’ve known each other for 20 years so like we’re basically married, anyway. Her lack of care for the Oxford Comma is concerning, though.)
That leads me to a question, though… Does familiarity with the writer harm or help the effectiveness of helping them with their writing?
The way I see it, it’s all about ~*~*~adaptability!~*~*~ It’s really how close I am to the writer that determines how I’ll go about editing/suggesting/tutoring them. There’s no one way to do it.
Alright, moving on. Don’t get me started on trying to help students interpret cryptic, short, and/or vague comments from professors. Half the time, you can’t even read them. Then, a good other 25% of the time, the comments do nothing to help guide the student on how to revise a certain section. Big sigh.
Disclaimer: This isn’t all professors. This isn’t all commentary. Sometimes, the comments are perfect for helping to guide a tutoring session or find the main purpose of a session. It’s more of an Every Other Session kinda deal where you gotta play detective to figure out what the professor wants.
But that’s none of my business. *GIF of someone sipping tea that I’m too lazy to find*
Moving on again, Bean mentions that it’s a good idea to point out how well the writer is doing in an assignment rather than just focusing on the negative parts of it. That’s exactly how I work with tutoring. Especially with online tutoring. We have a formula of sorts, where we add comments throughout the paper and leave a summarizing commentary at the end of the assignment. As manufactured and inorganic as it sounds, you always should start your summarizing commentary (as the author talks about near the end of the article) with the “good” aspects of a paper, to lessen the blow of the critique. As Bean points out,
Zull (2002) shows that positive emotions enhance cognition … Zull’s point is that fear, anxiety, or anger blocks meaningful learning, which is associated with pleasure. To promote meaningful learning, Zull argues, teachers should build on student successes, evoking feelings of hope and confidence rather than failure (319-320).
So, there. The bit in the middle that I cut out talked about fancy brain stuff and the amygdala so YEAH SCIENCE PROVES professors need to be chill to students in their critiques.
I know I’m more motivated when I get comments about the “good” parts of my writing. For example, it was interesting the range of commentary I got on a short story I wrote over the summer (I hear results soon. Fingers crossed!). Some commentary was a general, overall “I like it!” with a question or two that, while ego-boosting, didn’t provide much constructive feedback.
Others just pointed out the “problem” spots and felt like a heavy weight on my chest with no relief. (Also, there were crucial parts of the story one reviewer wanted me to change. Cue my defiance like “nah friend I don’t want to be more explicit about the narrator or their relationship with Lea but thanx tho.”)
And then. There was one reviewer who probably gave me the best review of my work that I’ve ever received EVER. It was equal parts complimentary and critiquing, and altogether understanding that (alright this is kinda cliche) I Have A Vision Here that I don’t want to change.
I hope to be a reviewer like that, a beta like that, a tutor like that. Sometimes I think I just point out too many comma errors and call it a day, but I like to think I’m learning to tutor alongside my students learning to write.
If. That makes sense.
Hoo boy, there’s still so much more I can talk about, but I think I’ve ranted for too long…
Honestly, I just wanna give this article to new writing coaches in the writing center. It’s a good resource for learning to critique students’ writing sensitively and effectively.
Alas, tho, as I said, I’mma go. Because I talk too much.
HAVE A LOVELY DAY/NIGHT/ETC.