Degrees of learning

is a second section in Elbow’s article on writing.

It’s a bit more thought provoking for me.

The students write for themselves. I don’t see it. I don’t grade it. I don’t read it. … I wonder how I could incorporate this in my classroom and if it’s really a good idea.

Sharing, but no feedback. That is that others read it. I read it. But there’s no grade, except perhaps participation.

Under sharing he includes “publication.” That is that the students bring some of their work, with copies, and you staple them together and use them as part of the course. I am not sure how you would use them and he doesn’t discuss it. Something else to think about.

Student response groups. I never learned how to use these well. E has them in his class and they seem to be useful. I would like to use this tomorrow… Maybe I can copy the students’ papers and pass a copy to someone else to read and comment on. I really like that idea. (Must remember to get copy code.)

Here’s an interesting take on some teacher commenting:

There’s a quick and easy form of “proto-commenting” that is remarkably effective–especially appropriate perhaps for think pieces: putting straight lines alongside or underneath strong passages, wavy lines alongside or underneath problem passages, and X’s next to things that seem plainly wrong. I can do this almost as fast as I can read, and it gives remarkably useful feedback to students: it conveys the presence and reactions of a reader.

(He’s talking to more than just English teachers.)

I thought this was funny/true:

It’s best to comment in everyday terms or in whatever language people in your field might use (e.g., “This is wordy / roundabout / awkward / naive”). Plain talk by non-English teachers is often more effective with students. That is, it’s better to say, “Don’t sound so pompous” than to say, “Don’t use so many passives and nominalized constructions.” Most of all, you have a great advantage over us English teachers: when you say, “This is unacceptable writing in our field,” students tend to believe you; when we English teachers complain about style or clarity, students tend to dismiss it as just our occupational hang-up.

Then there is this idea, which I wouldn’t want to do early on, but which might work well in the later writings… Especially right before we do our final on the journals that are about the final.

Two-fers: I sometimes wait till I have two pieces by each student before reading and commenting. For example, I might comment on two think pieces (and perhaps even ask for an essay on a subsequent week that builds on the better of the two). With this approach I make just one comment that’s not much longer than a comment on only one paper– but it applies to both papers. It’s easier to say, “This one is stronger than that one for the following reasons,” than to figure out what to say about just one paper–especially if it is problematic or bland. These comparative comments are usually better at helping students improve because I can point to what worked rather than what didn’t.

Just the thing to make students sure we are crazy:

Since lots of casual ungraded writing can give students a sense that we are not interested in high quality work, there is something to be said for having a graded essay relatively early in the term and grading it with demanding standards–so that they can feel the true dialectic or schizophrenic relationship between writing to learn and writing to demonstrate learning.

I like it, though.

I don’t think that all of his suggestions for avoiding plagiarism will work, especially not in a freshman comp class, but I do agree with and use this one: “Collect lots of informal writing so students know that you know their style or voice.”

I also do this well. “Students won’t write enough unless we assign more writing than we can comment on–or even read. There is no law against not reading what we make them write.”

I don’t do this, though. And maybe I should think about doing it. “Writing can have a powerful communal or social dimension; it doesn’t have to feel solitary.” I do it with my poetry classes at the coop, but not at the college.

I really do need to think about that.

I LOVE being challenged to think. I thought this class was going to be pretty wussy, and it can be, but I’m not going the wuss route.

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