This post is part of the Campfire Session series from Corequisite Composition Summer Camp 2021. You can find all recorded sessions and resources from Camp here . By Tracie Grimes, M.A. Professor of English, Bakersfield College As educators, we go miles out of the way to feed the need for help when students struggle to find their academic writing voices. However, many times the words we so carefully craft, words that we just know will add college/university-level skills to their writing toolbelts, seem to fall on deaf ears. It is a delicate dance finding that “sweet spot” of constructive criticism; one that gives them the suggestions/corrections they will see as helpful and want to use rather than critiques that send them cringing into the corner of our classrooms. In today’s arena of teaching spaces filled with underprepared composition students, it is difficult to give students usable, non-threatening feedback that provides them with a clear idea of what they need to do and how they can do it to be successful. Susan M. Brookhart, in her book How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students , tells us a good start is one that takes into consideration the following: The topic in general and your learning target of targets in particular Typical developmental learning progressions for those topics or targets Your individual students (12) “Try to see things from the student’s-eye view…Which aspects of the learning target would the student benefit from improving next?” (Brookhart 12). Putting ourselves in the shoes of our students not only helps us empathize with someone who is on the receiving end of constructive criticism, it helps us understand more about the importance of the relationship between feedback and how it is used by students (Pitt and Norton 499). Studies from 2010 conducted by Richard Bailey, Mark Garner, and D. R. Sadler tell us what most of us already know: Students are not using our feedback. “Part of the difficulty arises from changes in thinking … about what the exact purpose of feedback is, how students engage with feedback and how they use it to improve their future assessed work” (Pitt and Norton 499). Given the fact that we are spending so much time giving feedback largely ignored by students, finding ways to connect our commentary to learning goals becomes an important consideration; it gives students concrete rationale for why they are being asked to complete the assignments. When students see the connection between a task and a learning goal, a “shared understanding between teachers and learners” is established, which can motivate students to take their learning to the next level (Bailey and Garner 188). For example, a dialogue journal in which students and professors create short entries on a Google Doc in which student entries focus on something specified in an SLO, such as integrating evidence from a credible source into a paragraph, and citing the source using MLA style. Every week, the professor then responds to what students write, providing comments on what the student is doing correctly, and what the student could do to make his/her writing stronger. This type of formative assessment provides student-centered feedback using a constructivist paradigm of teaching and learning (Brown and Glover), and, when returned to students within a timeframe that allows them to make corrections before the final draft is due, can be seen as more useful by the students. Getting students to actually use our feedback is another challenge. Their choice to use feedback depends largely upon their reaction to what we say, and that reaction appears to involve a number of contributory factors. First and foremost is their understanding of the feedback they receive. Many times, students report that they do not understand the feedback given, which is why they do not use the comments to make revisions. For example, when a student sees a comment such as “awkward phrasing,” he/she may not completely understand what is meant by “awkward,” or how to correct it. A clear comment, such as “The writing here is a bit awkward and difficult to read because the phrase ‘for example’ is repeated several times. Try rearranging your sentence to get rid of the repeated phrase or keep the sentence the same and try plugging in different words in its place. If you’re at a loss, do a quick search for ‘other words, for example’.” This explicitly states what the problem was, why it was a problem, and what steps could be taken to improve. Another example comes from a writing tutor, “Right now, your thesis can be improved by addressing the prompt directly with the same keywords. It is tough to see that you are answering what it is asking. A strong thesis would likely mention some ways that cyberbullying affects bystanders to act positively and negatively. Yours mentions some positive reactions, but it does not clearly mention negative bystander reactions, only that it does not occur in social media.” Critiques about something as personal as writing can be hard pills to swallow, but administering the dose is no walk in the park either. Researchers are seeing more and more comments such as, “They may read it and not understand it. The challenge for us is trying to make it as easy as possible to understand. People outside education don’t use words the way we do” -Nursing (Bailey and Garner 193), or “Some [students] are motivated and conscientious and make changes. Others don’t really care and are satisfied with less” -Social Sciences (192). The stakes are high as we search for ways to engage our students with accessible, usable feedback. However, by offering clear direction about what our students need to do and how they need to do it in the form of information that “takes them … to the next level” (Brookhart 12), we may also find that our words become the catalyst for change in the way students respond to feedback. Works Cited Bailey, Richard, and Mark Garner. “Is the Feedback in Higher Education Assessment Worth the Paper It Is Written on? Teachers’ Reflections on Their Practices.” Teaching in Higher Education , vol. 15, no. 2, Apr. 2010, pp. 187–198. EBSCOhost , doi:10.1080/13562511003620019. Brookhart, Susan M. How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students . Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2008. Brown, E., and C. Glover. “Evaluating written feedback on students’ assignments.” Innovative assessment in higher education , ed. C. Bryan and K. Clegg, Taylor, and Francis, 2005. Reinholz, Daniel L., and Dimitri R. Dounas-Frazer. Personalized Instructor Responses to Guided Student Reflections: Analysis of Two Instructors’ Perspectives and Practices . 2017, doi:10.1119/1.5002683. Sadler, D. Royce. “Beyond Feedback: Developing Student Capability in Complex Appraisal.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education , vol. 35, no. 5, Aug. 2010, pp. 535–550. EBSCOhost , doi:10.1080/02602930903541015.
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This post is part of the Campfire Session series from Corequisite Composition Summer Camp 2021. You can find all recorded sessions and resources from Camp here. How Story Forms the Foundation for Teaching Composition and How Visual Images Can Shape Our Students as Writers By Linda Maria Steele, Dean College I remember my very first teaching gig straight out of graduate school at University of Texas, Dallas. I received a fellowship and worked as a Teaching Assistant, which led to my teaching job at Richland College in Dallas. I was hired as an adjunct the semester after I received my Master’s degree from UT. I was offered three sections of Composition. I was full of hope, energy, and enthusiasm. But early on, I wasn’t always clear on how to get students to actually apply the tools I was teaching them and help them become better writers. Developing effective skills as a writer is such a personal task and one tool doesn’t work the same way for each student. Tools are great, but they have to be explored and practiced in practical terms if they are going to be useful and help students grow as writers. It has been close to 20 years since that first teaching gig. Looking back after all of those semesters teaching Composition, I now have a deeper understanding of how important story is as the foundation for our students as writers. Students who grasp how to effectively incorporate story in their essays have a much easier time later on when the types of papers they write become more layered and complex. Story teaches them how to connect with their ideas and what they value, connect with their readers, and gain an understanding of how to structure an essay. I have also come to appreciate the benefits of incorporating visual images into our courses and how both story and visual images can further shape our students as writers. For years, I’ve asked students to read essays with a strong focus on story with a message, introduced them to the dramatic arc, and told them how important it is to write their story with a strong beginning, middle, and end. It wasn’t until I met with a student about a first draft that the need to apply these tools really hit home. The student—I will call her Jessica—chose to write about a dramatic event that had a large impact on her life. She wrote about how the previous year, her house caught fire and burned to the ground. An event with the potential for a compelling story with a point. As dramatic of an event as this was, Jessica was not quite understanding how to tell or write the story in a dramatic way. Jessica’s first draft left out important details and had no clear organization. The essay was difficult to follow. When I gave her feedback and asked her to tell me the story in her own words, she mentioned that she ran back in the house at the very last minute to try to rescue her beloved pet guinea pig named George. I pointed out that one of the problems I saw in her draft was that she didn’t create any tension in the story. And that it seemed to me the guinea pig was an important and interesting detail to include. I reminded her of the dramatic arc we talked about in class and how it is the tension that makes story so interesting and allows us as readers to find meaning—elements that make for a good story. I suggested that she might want to try to highlight, for dramatic effect, whether or not her beloved pet, George, made it out alive. And how that detail was something that would spark interest and curiosity in her reader. I also suggested that she look for any visual images she had of her pet or the house she lost. I suggested by focusing on the images, she might get clearer on what she really wanted to communicate on the topic as she rewrote her draft. The tools we share with our students are valuable. But we also have to seek new ways to get them to understand how to use and apply them in their writing. A tool is only effective to the degree that we find practical ways to put them in practice. When it comes to teaching composition, the task for our students is less about memorizing new material and more about practicing and engaging with themselves as thinkers and writers. Jessica’s final draft was really well written. The final draft began with an introductory paragraph that hinted at the possible loss of her beloved pet. We didn’t learn until the last line that her guinea pig did, in fact, get out in time. The guinea pig served as the tension the story needed. Not only did she write an interesting essay with a strong story arc—she witnessed for herself just how important using the tool of story is to her progress as a writer. Through her willingness to revise, she found a way to tell the story in a way that was interesting and made a meaningful impact. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the way story forms the foundation for developing as writers and how visual images can shape and support our writing skills.
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This post is part of the Campfire Session series from Corequisite Composition Summer Camp 2021. You can find all recorded sessions and resources from Camp here. By Christina Di Gangi, Dawson Community College The Problem: Bridging the Gap between Informative and Analytic Writing In teaching terms, I am a career literature generalist with almost sole responsibility for my college's co-requisite writing model. From my vantage point, I understand that my students struggle to bridge the gap between informative and analytic writing. Close reading is ‘back’ in part due to the CCSS (Common Core State Standards)—but while students may know how to find extensive information on a given topic, they do not always start college fully equipped to write a more analytic research paper using peer-reviewed research writing. This gap becomes especially pressing if the research paper is taught in the first-semester writing class, with students going on to write papers in their major immediately thereafter. My job is to get students up to speed. For this reason among others, reading research articles is a major focus in our co-requisite model writing labs. One Potential Solution: Inquiry Charts or I-Charts (Hoffman, 1992) In completing ancillary graduate coursework on reading to facilitate my teaching of our co-requisite-model courses, I learned about James V. Hoffman’s 1992 Language Arts article, “Critical reading/thinking across the curriculum: Using I-charts to support learning.” Inquiry charts, or I-Charts, are graphic or cognitive organizers that K-12 students can use to map information from prior knowledge—“activating prior knowledge”—along with their reading from informative sources: This lets students build connections in ways that simply restating information from pre-selected readings does not. Hoffman proposes a model where students work together in class before moving to individual practice, but the graphic organizer concept is flexible and adaptable. Before and during reading, students have space to enter information they already know about a topic, and then space to combine this prior knowledge with additional detail and meaning from other sources that they read. The I-Chart struck me as a flexible tool. Since my first-year writing students face the challenging task of improving their facility with peer-reviewed research articles while at the same time learning how to put together a college-level research paper , I wanted to design a cognitive organizer for them that would help them both to read the research articles that they had selected and then to place those articles in level-appropriate research papers of their own. I note that instructors can prepare students to use a cognitive organizer like the I-Chart within the natural flow of class, as they teach students to search, organize, analyze, and write about research topics. Within our co-requisite model, I find that students benefit from preparatory instruction both on isolating the content of research articles and on writing about individual research articles before moving to a longer paper. Two preparatory techniques that I would highlight are quizzes and short reviews: For quizzes, I have students practice isolating the methods and findings of abstracts, then of whole short research articles. I pick level-appropriate articles and have them annotate their copies as well as practice writing analytic clusters and paragraphs using page numbers and quotations from the articles. Writing short reviews of single research articles helps students improve in that genre but also prepares them to write a summative research paper in my class, basically a review of research. Using the I-Chart to Plan and Draft Beginning College Research Papers Preparatory work on isolating the features and key points of peer-reviewed research articles prepares students to complete an I-Chart or similar cognitive organizer, which they can then use to structure and complete shorter and longer research assignments. Students can practice using multiple articles to complete an I-Chart in groups before moving to individual practice; they can then apply the technique to the topic of their own paper, whether that topic be pre-assigned or self-selected. Once the table has been completed, students have a visual that should suggest to most how writing about their chosen articles can be organized in a longer framework such as a research paper. In my first-semester writing class, students are specifically asked to organize their final research papers as a survey of current research using six or more research articles. Again, this is a very flexible technique. I have students write a three-source midterm, more of a ‘sandbox’ for the final paper than a full-length research paper, and then write a final paper using six or more peer-reviewed sources—but the I-Chart can easily be adapted to the needs of your particular class. For example, students could use the I-Chart to organize thoughts about a set of theme-based readings before they get into research writing; if they were more advanced, they could write about six articles for a draft around midterm and expand the number of sources for their final project. Some students may even want to change the organizing categories to suit their thought process a little better, which has certainly worked for students of mine in the past. As I emphasize to students, the goal is to track their personal analysis of the peer-reviewed research sources that they are using, then to place them in the context of their future thinking and writing—rather than to have a beautifully completed chart. An added bonus is that students can learn to detach their analytic process from trying to produce beautiful writing—they can focus on organizing and showing their thought process before they turn to redraft and polish their work. Given all of these benefits, it is my hope that this use of a graphic organizer to facilitate analytic reading and writing for beginning college students is an honest use of a technique from the teaching of reading, a field from which—in terms of my own teaching, certainly—I still feel that I have much to learn.
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I live on the coast of California about 150 miles north of San Francisco in a community called The Sea Ranch. It has quite a history, of which I was completely unaware when—after love at first sight—I bought a lot here in 2000 and eventually saved enough money to build a home. Now I am a ‘full-timer” here and over the years have come to know a lot about this place. It was the home of the Pomo people before a “settler” received a Mexican land grant in 1846 for the property. In the early sixties, an architect surveyed the ten miles of coastal land before a group purchased the property and engaged a distinguished group of young architects to design a community whose watchword was to be “living lightly on the land.” Graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, known for her supergraphics, designed the Sea Ranch logo, which you can see below, as well as large and very striking interior paintings for several of the original buildings.
And here’s where fonts come in. As they wrote materials about The Sea Ranch, the founders settled on the very modern, very “in” Helvetica font. As I got to know more about The Sea Ranch and became friends with one of the original architects—the fabulous Donlyn Lyndon—I got curiouser and curiouser about this favored and pervasive font and learned of its rise to prominence as “the most famous” Swiss Style typeface.
Launched in 1957, the neutral sans serif design was meant to be versatile and unobtrusive—to go unnoticed. But noticed it certainly was, soon becoming the go-to font for many brands, from Target to Apple’s Macintosh, from Yankee Stadium to the side of NASA’s space shuttle.
Wow. Learning a little bit about this history, about the rise and fall and rise of Helvetica, of the wars between those who loved and those who loathed it, made me think of asking students what they know about fonts and why they choose them. I have them work in pairs to choose a font they admire and then see what they can find out about its history, about who created it and why, and about where and by whom it is used. Then we use their findings to launch a discussion of different font “personalities” and to write up little bios of a couple of fonts, describing them, giving them nicknames and character traits. We have some fun along the way, and students become much more conscious of the design choices they are making, often without even thinking of them.
So the next time you give an assignment, ask students to pay special attention to the font they choose—and to append a memo to you at the end of the assignment explaining their choice. I always find these explanations fascinating!
Image Credit: "helvetica 50" by _Nec, used under a CC BY 2.0 license (top); Photo by Andrea Lunsford
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