On Feedback in Writing…

Feedback on Student Writing

Sun & Ryan really kicked-off the presentations on a high note.  Last night was a thorough and insightful consideration on Feedback for Writing inspired by last week’s readings by Bean & Elbow.  We spoke about the shifting perspective involved in being a student and receiving a paper back, verses being a teacher who faces a voluminous stack of papers to evaluate.  Somewhere in between these two experiences lies a real need to develop an effective practice – which honors both the developing writer, while still keeping in mind the reality of a teacher’s time constraints.  We also understanding the looming backdrop of the overall educational system and the real constraints that teachers face in terms of meeting specific assessments and district administrative expectations.  From the beginning, our bridge from writing theory to real life (on-the-ground) practice reveals the challenges (to say the least).

Bean articulates how easy it is, as a teacher, to forget that there is a person behind each essay that is being read (sometimes ripped apart for errors) and graded. It’s also easy to forget that strong feeling of vulnerability which accompanies allowing someone to read your work—especially if that person is in a position to judge you.  We considered how much room there is for misunderstanding and misinterpretation between the writer and the writing instructor during feedback.  Bean advises teachers to be more mindful of the comments that they write on students’ papers because the worst comments can insult and even dehumanize a student.  Thanks for your focused lens on mitigated criticism Ryan.

In our classroom discussion, we drew closer to the student writer’s viewpoint (Kelsey and Bailey’s blogs this week are “stand out” regarding these issues).  It is critical to apprehend that foundational vulnerability that lies at the heart of learning how to write.  And I also think it is important for all of us to tap into our own memories of teacher feedback in order to gain that empathetic perspective.  The key consideration that emerged was the subtle issue of power that informs teaching and learning contexts.  (Thanks to Sun for sharing Kohn’s writings on re-thinking grading as a lens into this fundamental issue in education).  When one has a position of authority/power, it is important to recognize the significant responsibility in that position.  Unfortunately in the haste to do one’s job as teacher, sometimes these truths are forgotten or disregarded.  But the responsibility that comes with authority should remain front and center in order to maintain a mindful approach to designing an effective learning environment.  This is a lot for a teacher to navigate (when there is little supporting them in terms of systemic expectation).

By reviewing thesearticles carefully, it seems we have covered the well-trodden ground of the challenge in responding to student writing, and yet, there isn’t a crystal clear pathway to ensure an overall improved strategy.  One thing is clear though – that a lack of professional development or training in this area is widespread, and it is certainly an area in which teachers need further focused support (at all levels of education – from elementary school to higher education).  When more and more teachers are given the chance to consider (and workshop) new strategies for responding to student writing, I believe we will also see a shift in the way students respond to writing instruction in general.  The response from a teacher is a key determinant of how many students develop their overall disposition regarding writing.

Our agenda slides

The Danger of A Single Story

The class discussion was lively (excellent!), and I had to interrupt the flow in order to save just enough time for our Equity Unbound activity.  We ended our class time together by watching Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful TED talk entitled The danger of a single story.

Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.  This week we will all participate in the #unboundeq “slow chat” activity responding to 3 critical questions.  Since we wrapped up class with no time to spare (overtime!), I would like you to jump into the #unboundeq twitter backchannel and share your Danger of A Single Story reflections there.  Also, I encourage you to reply to other people’s reflections by retweeting with comments!! ** Please remember to answer each of the three questions with “A1” (for answer #1) “A2”, or “A3”,  and always include the #unboundeq hashtag in your tweet!

For Next Week:

Next week we turn to a new theme – Writing Problems & Processes.  Amber has selected three short essays from the collection entitled Bad Ideas About Writing edited by Cheryl Ball and Drew Lowe.  

FIRST-YEAR COMPOSITION PREPARES STUDENTS FOR ACADEMIC WRITING by Tyler Branson

READING IS NOT ESSENTIAL TO WRITING INSTRUCTION by Julie Myatt Barger

FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION by Allison D. Carr

Hugo has selected the article entitled Envisioning possibilities: Visualizing as Inquiry in Literacy Studies.

Your “to-do” list:
  1. Please finish “The Danger of A Single Story” Twitter “Slow Chat” (answer the 3 questions on twitter and also “retweet with comment” a few other peoples responses to grow our interactivity and connections in the network);
  2. Read the above the selections from Amber’s text, as well as Hugo’s article.
  3. Post your Blog #4 which should be a synthetic reflection on Amber & Hugo’s readings in light of “Writing Problems & Processes”.  **Please remember to tweet your blog post after publishing it!

Next week in class we will start with Amber & Hugo’s presentations and the second part of the class will include a return to our online network with another Equity Unbound activity!

Have a great week…

Dr. Zamora

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