This weeks readings leave less to debate or question, it seems, more to practice and through trial and error, determine what works best for our teaching styles and our students. A lot of Bean and Elbows’ remarks on the importance of incorporating low stakes writing–to develop student ideas, help students find their clear, energized voices, reflect and process readings, lectures or class activities, take intellectual and expressive risks, and find their own language for ideas that exist in another foreign discourse–make perfect sense, represent pedagogy I have been taught to use, and I love the results. I only wish there was more time for more in-class writing. What I am realizing is that students are not bored when they are quietly writing away in their notebooks. I did dialogic journals in partners last week. They wrote, read each other’s notebooks, responded in writing, and then reflected on the response in writing for about 45 minutes straight. When I surveyed them for feedback the next class about the helpfulness of that exercise, almost all students said they really enjoyed getting to think through the questions and getting to read another student’s writing to learn their respective.
I think the two more difficult or not-obvious aspects of the readings have to do with responding to writing and crafting essay assignments. Despite the fact that I completely overhauled my assignment handout after reading Kerry Walk’s advice on clearly stating the prompt and having a clear reference to what they need to answer or address, my students have been very confused about what their first essay is really about. I cannot tell if this is more to do with the task of close reading which is rather mysterious to them still, or if it’s that my prompt is actually unclear. Perhaps it is problematic to assign writing that expects students to both display a particular critical thinking skill that is new to them and make an argument that responds intelligently to the readings they’ve done around the class theme. This gets back to the content-skills debate. I think Bean’s suggestions about writing formal writing assignments is quite on point–however, I feel kind of stuck given the framework of my English 110 class, the readings available, etc., to produce a clear, engaging assignment that will lead to strong formal essays. In K-12 education I learned a lot about backwards planning–I wish I had written the assignments, at least the framework, I wanted my students to do before laying out the sequence of readings. These formal assignments, as evidence of learning outcomes, should, in retrospect, drive the syllabus.
As far as responding to writing, I very much appreciated Elbow’s break-down of levels of teacher response, and his assessment of the psychology at play for students, to realize that there is more damage to be done than help at times. It is so easy in the time-crunch of reviewing student work to forget their emotions or the time honored dictum, if you don’t have sometime nice to say, don’t say a thing–the 5:1 rule is psychologically tested, supposedly, good to bad–what we are capable of truly hearing. In terms of giving reduced feedback, or only positive feedback, I think it is key here to tell students when handing back work, your rationale for your system. For example to say, “I drew a line under what I thought would clear, engaging thoughts.” I also appreciated his reminder not to write in comments as you read drafts but to assess afterwards which problems are worth commenting upon.
There are many good take-aways from these readings–many kinds of writing assignments I’d like to experiment with. As far as discussion, it might be useful for us to share our first essay assignments with each other and discuss how we would revise for next semester.