Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Speaking of Teacher Feedback

So this happened.

Posted on Happy Place.

It's a letter to the Speaker of the House on immigration reform that has been marked up by a former high school teacher.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Writing Feedback Online With Students

This fall I've been working on a new method for delivering comments on drafts of student papers.

I should mention, I'm not grading the drafts when I use this new method. I provide this feedback so my students can revise before turning stuff in for a grade. In my courses, this is the most extensive feedback I give.

This method-in-development has helped me deal with two issues I face when writing back to students.

Improving Feedback Clarity
Like many teachers, I have trouble knowing what students will take away from my feedback.
Some students read every comment. Some never read any at all. Some read too much into one comment and ignore the rest. Some misread the advice. Some think that they should get an A+ if they make each change suggested.

It's a messy exchange. The students have 'the-paper-they-think-they-wrote' in mind. I have a goal I want the students to aspire towards. The papers they write say one thing, but those papers are in the process of becoming something else.

It is a setting rife with opportunities for misinterpretation.

Getting Through Feedback
The second issue is more mundane. When I am sitting at home with a stack of papers to comment on, there is a temptation to spend the day on Reddit, or Facebook, or Kongregate, or anywhere else that isn't the next twenty drafts of essays waiting for comments.

My solution involves bringing the student in on the process.

Here's what I do
I ask my students to throw the text of their drafts onto a Google Drive Document. I tell them not to worry about lost formatting - as this is just a draft.

Then I ask them to pick a time when they can be online along with me.

At the appointed time, we both go to the document. The student can see my comments as I post them, and any edits I make happen in "real time."

I comment on their papers while they're watching, and I invite them to respond to my comments as we work.

...and that's it really.

It sounds simple, and it is. The initial set up is a bit tricky, but I have small courses this term. That's made the piloting of this a lot easier.

With a scheduling spreadsheet open to the group, sign ups are easy enough. I give most students about 20 minutes of time. I give 30 minutes to L2 writers (students writing in their second language).

And I let Google Drive do the the technical work. I'm sure there are other platforms that could support this, but I just went with what was easiest for my students to access.

I can see this becoming something I research and write about in the near(ish) future, but for now I'm just hammering out the details.

I'd appreciate any thoughts or suggestions from my friends in composition and rhetoric.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Why (Not How) We Cite

I spend a lot of time talking to students about how to cite sources. It is something they worry about. 

The thing I worry about is this: Do students understand why we cite sources? recently published this video that does a great job of showing us why citations are important to the people who originally wrote the stuff.
I think it is crucial for students to see citations as a social act.

When working with international students, I have them write a paper on the subject.
When teaching first-year writing, I devote a lot of discussion time to exploring the question.

I don't like the "Cite or Be Punished" approach to this issue.
I don't think it is productive to remind students that there is an academic integrity enforcement squad watching, waiting for them to trip up.

Sure, that technique might keep some from plagiarizing out of fear of punishment, but there is a larger goal in writing instruction: Students are supposed to learn about writing as a social act that helps them gain access to a community.

If that community is seen as a heavily policed minefield, then they are less likely to really engage.

So, in my classes, I first work to explain the value of good citations, how they help strengthen an argument.

Then I explain the way scholarly writers feel about having their work cited by others: That is what they are looking for when they write. They don't write to get paid; they write to get cited.

This is all meant to demonstrate how good citations are reinforced by a community's values, and to explain why professors think it's such a big deal.

I'm hoping to find a way to use this article and video from in that effort.

It's a great piece on why citations are important.
Citations, in which one paper refers to earlier works, are the standard means by which authors acknowledge the source of their methods, ideas and findings, and are often used as a rough measure of a paper’s importance. Fifty years ago, Eugene Garfield published the Science Citation Index (SCI), the first systematic effort to track citations in the scientific literature. To mark the anniversary, Nature asked Thomson Reuters, which now owns the SCI, to list the 100 most highly cited papers of all time. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Added a CV page 'cause I'm on the market

So, I added my CV as a page on this blog.

The link is over there in the sidebar.

I put it up here because I'm applying for jobs.

As someone interested in persuasion and argument, the job search process is fascinating.

In the professional writing class I teach, we do a few sessions on the job search, and I tell students to hold this attitude in their minds:
Remember, the person who gives you a job is not doing you a favor. If they hire you, it is because they expect you to make their operation run better or do more. No one hires an employee as an act of charity.

This is supposed to remind students that the power dynamics in a job search are not as lopsided as we often feel.

That's really easy advice to give in the classroom, but it is a lot of work to maintain that attitude.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Five Fallacies Done Well

Too often in composition classrooms the logical fallacies are taught as a list to be memorized for a later quiz or exam.

They are taught because they feel like "content" in a course that can sometimes feel light on content.

That is something I don't approve of.

I first learned of these ideas in an intro to logic course in the philosophy department at Madison. In that class we spent time going over examples and exploring why such methods of argument are problematic. This led nicely into the course on sentential logic.

The video here does a lot of the same work. It spends time with each fallacy and shows viewers what the fallacy looks like "in the wild."

This is something I approve of.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Wow! Facts and Reasoning on Cable News?

This is a video of Reza Aslan undertaking the Sisyphean task of trying to engage in real constructive debate on cable news.

It's pretty awesome. He takes the reins just after the one-minute mark, and he demonstrates how facts and knowledge are better than assumptions and guesses.

For a while I thought the folks at CNN were in on it; that they were setting up all the bad arguments for Professor Aslan to knock down.

That would have been some genius journalism.

Sadly, I recently learned that the show brought in another guest the next day and told everyone that Reza's facts are not as important as your fear of "the other."

The Young Turks do a great piece on this.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Thoughts on Writing in English from International Students

Monday was day one for my composition class for visiting international students.

I asked them to hand write a brief statement about their experiences writing in a second language.

The results were so great that I started typing excepts into my teaching journal.

The quote that got me most was one of the first I read. It's from a biology student:
The English that I learned in school before going to university is very different from the one I started to learn as a college student, because even if it is the same language, they are in different contexts, demanding different knowledges.
I read that and had to pause to take a deep breath.

Here's the thing, that quote articulates the rational for one of the more important chapters in my dissertation. Sure, I'm working on the dissertation all the time lately, so it makes sense that I would see it in everything I read, but the spot-on nature of that quote is uncanny. 

I have an entire chapter dedicated to the idea that second-language students in biology are working with language conventions and scientific concepts that force them to reassess their own knowledge of English. But I didn't tell that to this student. 

So, I read the rest of my students' writing histories with my researcher's hat on, and it proved to be an enriching exercise. 

Take a look at some of the sentences I pulled from writing history texts generated by visiting international students at a research university. 

Writing in English is one action which makes me really nervous.

As I wrote papers more and more, I feel comfortable to write in English.
I also write in English sometimes to connect with people in the internet.

Sometimes I cannot find the exact word to express myself. 
I wrote my first essay in English when I was preparing for the TOEFL test. 
Korea’s [English] education system only focuses on reading and listening. 
I memorize a lot of sentences which called ‘template.’ The reason I did this is only for getting a good grade. 
My experience writing in a second language makes me feel a little nervous, because writing essays is not a great skill that I have even in my native language.

It was difficult in the beginning because American writing rules are different from Brazilian’s. 
I feel like I was basically translating Chinese essay writing skills. 
I had to write an application […] but it was very hard to me, because I had to write my experience.

Writing an essay in English was one of my favorite activity when I was in middle school […] In recent times, however […] I feel nothing. I cannot have that excitement and feelings of freedom I had in the past. 
I suppose it is pretty difficult to write in a foreign language. 
I’m not the perfect writer in English. 
I started to learn the way of writing an argument essays for an university entrance exam. It was a good opportunity for me to improve my writing skills because my English teacher checked my essay again and again. 
I’ve always listened to music and watched movies in English. 
Through the years I started doing more writings and feeling a little less afraid of doing them. 
The quotes paint an interesting picture of the way international students think about writing in the English language.

Oh, and if you are concerned about the errors in these quotes, don't be. Why you shouldn't be is a conversation for another time, but I will say this: These are very articulate statements, errors and all, coming from students writing in a second language without time to prep, without digital tools, and without time to revise.