Monday, November 24, 2014

Tiger Mike Memos


So, I was talking about my professional communication course with a friend.

He asked me, "Have you read the Tiger Mike Memos?"

I had not.

But now that I have read them, I must find a way to make these memos a reading task for my professional writing students.

These memos are amazing.

You really need to click here and read from the top. It just keeps getting better and better.

At times angry, at times rambling, and always at least a bit incoherent, these memos demonstrate so much about writing.

Do yourself a favor and check these out.

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?

Nature.com 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 Nature.com 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.