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Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Q&A For Nancy Sommers

357186_Nancy Sommers Headshot.jpgIn case you missed it, catch Nancy Sommers's CCCC webinar, "Responding to Student Writers" here: Watch the webinar

Other useful links from the webinar:

Do you have a question for Dr. Sommers? Log in, drop your questions in the thread below, and Dr. Sommers will answer!

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Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Re: Q&A For Nancy Sommers

From webinar attendee Jennifer Horowitz: Re: "Too many comments are written to the paper, not to the student": do you ever feel like when you comment to the students (vs to the paper) that you are critiquing the student vs critiquing the paper. That is, is there a risk that the negative feedback becomes personal for students?

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Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee

Re: Q&A For Nancy Sommers

A key idea for me is one that Nancy presents at 08:45: "Responding is really the most enduring form of communication we have with our students." Students develop as writers in response to both the tone and substance of our feedback; and in fact, students' memory of the class--even as they move on to other courses in future semesters--is based on the personal interactions we have with them through our comments on their drafts. For these reasons, I assign a "Dear Reader" letter with every draft, as Nancy suggests. This is very useful for moving from a dull monologue about the essay's requirements or the rules about good writing to a dialogue about what a student is trying to accomplish and how it's going.

--Michelle Clark, Merrimack College

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Re: Q&A For Nancy Sommers

Jennifer--Thank you for your great question.  This idea--"Too many comments are written to the paper, not to the student"--seemed puzzling to me when I heard it. I wondered--what does this mean?  What would be different about comments directed to a student, not to a paper? So, to start, I began asking: If a student were sitting beside me, how would I approach commenting? Would I tell the student what is missing and deficient in the paper? Would I bark a series of commands--Be specific! Avoid generalizations! Develop more! Or would I think about the particular student who wrote the paper--Marie, for instance--and why Marie chose the topic she is arguing; how she is asking an interesting question that matters to her; how my comments might be shaped to help Marie meet her goals.  I find that my comments are more specific, more helpful, more of a dialogue than a monologue when I write to the student. Also, I am less critical and more generous because it feels like an act of communication, not an act of criticism.

As I mentioned in our Webinar, I also find that the practice of asking students to write a "Dear Reader" letter helps me write comments to a student. If, for example, Marie writes in her letter that she needs help with developing an argumentative thesis or with paraphrasing sources, I can shape my comments as responses to Marie's questions.

Let me know if these thoughts help. Let's keep the conversation going.  Nancy

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Re: Q&A For Nancy Sommers

Thanks, Michelle.   As one of the Bunker Hill Community College students told me, "The most effective comments start conversations, not end them." I love this idea--the kind of idea I write on a post-it note-to remind me that all comments should start conversations with students.  A comment such as "Too much summary, not enough analysis" doesn't really start a conversation. It is a judgement, an observation, and, truly, what is a student to do with it or learn from it.

If students attach a "Dear Reader" letter, we can shape  our comments as conversations--a response to a writer from a writer--personal and focused, and enduring. 

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