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January 18, 2008

New to Teaching Writing? Eleven Things You Should Know


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Hi Readers,

Allyson of Learning to Teach Tech-Comm, a freelance writer and graduate student teacher, posted a list of eleven things that took me many semesters to learn by trial and error. For me, the advice is quite useful. What tips for composition teachers would you add to this list?

Eleven Things You Could Start Doing Today for the Benefit of Your Students' Writing

A few days ago, someone forwarded and email called "Eleven Things You Could Start Doing Today for the Benefit of Your Students' Writing" to the WPA listserv. I wanted to comment on it, but this is the first time I've had the chance because of the conference, as well as just keeping up in general. I'm not going to reproduce the e-mail comments under each item, but instead reproduce the items with my own thoughts.

1. Give writing assignments in written form, not just word of mouth

This one really is important. I pretty much figured that out within a week of class. Sometimes, though, telling them in . . .

. . . both writing and in class doesn't seem to help. There was one instance where I told things twice in writing and twice in class and students were still asking when an assignment was due.

2. During classroom discussions of student writing, hand out copies of the writing being discussed.

This is definitely an important one. I notice that I get much better discussions going when students have copies, rather than when I just put the writing on the overhead and ask them to talk about it.

3. Insist on a classroom with seminar-style seating or moveable desks, so that teacher and students can face each other in discussions.

While I definitely like seminar-style, I don't have much choice over my room arrangement at the moment. I'm in a computer classroom, and things just can't be moved around. Fortunately, whoever did the original room layout did a pretty decent job. Computer desks face each other, rather than being placed in rows facing front.

4. Get your students to write weekly in some form, whether it's a draft, informal response, or free write.

Done, done, and done. What's a writing class without writing?

5. In class, write when your students are writing.

That's probably the best answer to "what should you do when your students are writing?" I admit that I probably don't do this as often as I should. Sometimes, I give into the pressure to use the time to catch up on grading.

6. Only grade finished products, not drafts or informal writing.

I know I've never liked it when professors give grades on drafts, although it hasn't happened very often. To avoid confusion for my students, I always note (both in the syllabus and verbally!) if an assignment is going to be graded or not.

7. Give students' writing back within 1 week. Adjust level of feedback to time available.

I didn't have a problem with this at first, but around mid-semester I slacked off and got disorganized. I need to get back on track, and I'm definitely going to get all the loose ends tied up this week. I never thought of adjusting the amount of feedback; maybe I'll try that technique on the next assignment.

8. The first time you read a batch of student work, do so without a pencil in hand. Just read to get a sense of it; make no comments. Second time, read closely and make comments.

It's always tempting to just read once, especially when I'm busy, but I know that I make better comments when I read an assignment twice. I tend to miss things the first time around.

9. On each piece of writing you respond to, make at least 1 mark per page. Easiest technique is to underline what's promising, worth pursuing, well said.

Once again, another one of those important techniques that I'm often tempted to let slide because I'm busy. Also, sometimes, there are some pages where I don't find anything worthy of comment, good or bad. If I really feel neutral about a page, I don't leave a comment. I wonder if I should keep up that practice, or simply not let myself leave a page until I leave a comment.

10. Retire the red pen; stop copy-editing your students' work. Point out no more than 2 patterns of error, and leave it to the student to find a way to resolve the errors.

I feel that I'm very lucky this semester; none of my students make consistent mechanical errors. I'm not sure if this is because I'm working with mostly juniors, or if it's a random stroke of good luck, but I'm enjoying it!

11. Commenting on the first draft of a full-fledged paper is your best opportunity to bring about learning. On the draft, make no more than 3 major suggestions.

I'm surprised how many of these suggestions are already incorporated into my teaching practices. When I read a draft, I make pretty general comments, and only a few. Did we really discuss all of these things in my Comp/Rhet class? Well, I've also had some excellent teachers who certainly taught by example.

Click HERE to read Allyson's full post on her blog: "Learning to Teach Tech-Comm"

See you at the next post,

Lee

Posted by lhobbs at January 18, 2008 09:40 AM

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