Tuesday, December 03, 2013

10 Tips for Grading Writing w/ Less Stress and Frustration

I belong to the Professional and Organizational Development Discussion List (http://podnetwork.org/pod-listserv/), a smart group that cares about college level teaching and  professional development. On Monday, December 2, a member of the list posted a request for ideas to help faculty get past their frustrations when grading student writing at the end of the year. I wrote a reply that turned into a list of ten. After posting the list here, I made some edits from the original one-draft email for clarity and typos. I expanded item 6 a bit to say more about drafting.

It is hard to know what tips will help best the professor you write about without knowing the context more -- how the writing was assigned, whether the professor saw drafts, whether there's a writing center students could have been recommended to visit, and so on.

But with those caveats in mind, here's what helps me with grading stress and frustration:

1. Before I start, I remember that they're students and may not write standard edited English often, perhaps one or two papers a semester once they leave their first year writing course. That's not nearly enough to get to the point where they will write fluently on all aspects of writing. So I expect that I will see a variety of surface level errors -- typos, awkward sentences, homonym errors, maybe a little subject-verb agreement error and so on. Accepting that I'll see it, while it doesn't mean I won't call attention to it nor want account for it if I'm using a grading system that includes a consideration final draft editing and proofing, I won't let it bother me.

2. It's too easy to see what's wrong with student essays. Things start leaping out. So I try to read once through the essay with no pen in hand, no fingers on the key board. I read as if I'm in a dentist office, skimming even, but just trying to get a good first sense of things. It doesn't take long, and it makes me more efficient later. I read differently without a marking or responding technology at hand. I listen more and suspend judgment a bit. Sometimes I am surprised by what I hear and seen when I'm not reading aggressively, with an eye looking out for student error. What I'm really trying to do here is to suspend reading the writers as students and instead to listen to them as authors, the same way I would with an article I might pick up to read at the doctor's as I wait for an appointment. And as I say, it helps to get a lay of the land.

3. 1 and 2 combine to help me ask this question as I read more closely, ready to respond and grade: what's working in the piece? what do I like? where has the writer pushed him or herself, maybe even failing to reach where they wanted to go, but where they're pushing? I look for good stuff because I know I'll find the stuff I don't like very easily.

4. If it's a really rough batch, I take breaks, mix in other work for the course or another course. In part to not let my reading get less or more critical as I proceed. I need to see each piece freshly, and that can be impossible without some kind of break. The quick read in 2. helps me to sense how much I might want to break things up. I also can use the quick read to sort papers, saving ones that look especially promising as ones to read after a few that look average or below average.

5. I move. If I get frustrated or tired, I stop, stand, pace. And often my mind is racing because I wonder too what the assignment might do better. That is, surface errors are one thing, I can see past those pretty well (though I still note them in final drafts), but if the content or thinking I wanted the writing to evidence isn't coming through, if the central reason for the assignment isn't proving out, then I start to -- when I stand and pace and stretch* -- think over the assignment.  And sometimes I do find that I wasn't clear, or I can see where students might have gotten a wrong impression, and I begin to understand why I'm seeing some of what I'm seeing. And when that happens, I adjust my response.

6.  If I have seen earlier writing assignments, or prior drafts of the assignment, I look to see if there's overall progress, and often there is. Not that all things are better, but very often a student will have worked on one or two things in their writing over the series of papers/drafts and there's some improvement. I take joy in that. Note**: the longer the writing assignment and/or the more high stakes (percentage of grade in the course), the more drafting I'll ask to see. Seeing and giving feedback on drafts does three things: one, helps writers stay on task for longer papers so they aren't done last minute or, worse, intentionally stolen or plagiarized; two, helps writers revise and work through some of the hard learning issues touched on below; and three, for me, lets the final read for a grade happen more efficiently and quickly.

7. Some miscues fascinate me. Especially in papers where students are working with new ideas, new ways of thinking, new vocabularies and terms. So cognitively when they write, if their working memory is carrying all that new information and if they haven't written enough in their lives to have fluidity with standard edited English, they'll make surface errors mistake they don't normally make. And that fascinates me because the errors on the surface link often to a struggle with getting their thinking organized. So sometimes I see errors and then see that the real issue isn't a subject-verb agreement matter or that a sentence runs on or goes awry. It's that the writer is losing control because they are struggling to think and express that thought, and so it's a real snap shot into learning. That tells me a lot and it's really interesting stuff.

8. Cheer failure. Celebrate it with the student. Paula Krebs has a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education called "Next Time, Fail Better" (http://chronicle.com/article/Next-Time-Fail-Better/131790/). I have students read that and we make it a kind of motto, especially around something like writing, which is hard for most of them. So with 7. I do actually find ways to call out things that don't work in ways that are cheerful, not disdainful, hopeful and forward pointing, formative even if the grading act is summative and the assignment will have no more drafts. There will be more writing in their life, maybe my course, and so being of good cheer helps them to pick themselves up.

9. I don't take bad writing personally. My students haven't failed _me_ if they're not writing well. I may conclude (see 5.) that I've failed them.  And clearly, some students don't do the work they should and out and out fail themselves. But if they're not doing well and I've done everything as well as I could, then I don't blame them nor me. This stuff can be hard. And while it's sometimes disappointing to get work that isn't where I'd like it to be, it's also the case that work I see simply shows me where students are. My wife is fourth grade teacher. On her wall her are posters about grammar. For example, one about sentence structure explains and illustrates simple sentences, compound sentences, and complex sentences. I remember seeing my children go through their K-12 experience getting coverage of this stuff every year in way or another. My kids did o.k. on their college papers, As and Bs mostly; we live in a house where both parents write a lot every day, we read a lot, and the girls grew up writing and reading. But I know that a lot of kids they went to school with don't write as well. No surprise here but worth remembering:  the same schools, same teachers, same assignments, graduate students with different abilities. We do the same in our courses, pass students with different abilities. And those kids my children grew up with -- I've talked to their parents and seen some of their papers -- had writing of the kind that as a teacher could be frustrating (as did my own daughters on occasion). There are too many variables in all this. And so I've learned not to take it personally when bad writing happens and to not lay blame on prior teachers, schools, society, culture, the Internet and so on. It is what it is. Students will only get better at writing by writing a lot and reading a lot and being conscious -- through good teacher feedback, good peer and friend feedback, and learning to see their own writing and habits as writers in a way that allows for good self-feedback -- over time. We cannot fix it one course.

10. As you can see, I've learned to like bad writing. Not to accept it as always satisfactory or done, but to like it because it is often necessary and  reveals useful stuff. Bad writing is students (and myself because I produce my share of it) at least getting things down and starting to work with ideas in words. The writing can get better and there's often something in the bad that's worth making better. A pony in all the manure, or rose ready to bloom.  And I seize on that, gather my rosebuds where I may, and make the most of those darling buds.

* I do enjoy splitting infinitives.
**  This note and the items in italics were not part of the original post to POD-L.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Accelerating Community Through Online Writing: A List of Links and Sources  -- Carbone

Updates - Sunday, 11/24/13:
I added a talk summary. And explained more the works cited and talk origins.

 I updated the works cited to include Scott Warnock's _Teaching Writing Online: How and Why_, which got dropped when I cut and pasted the cited list from an essay.

I added four links (below in the links section) to items that we referenced on the fly during Q and A:

 to Charles Moran's "From High-Tech to Low-Tech"
 to NoodleTools which we referenced because it helps teach students about genres (knowing whether a source is a journal or website or article and so on).
 to the Eli software we talked about when we made the point that different software makes different approaches possible.
 to Audacity, which I turned on to illustrate the description Chris Weaver gave about how you can "see your voice" and edit it in ways similar to editing writing.

Talk Summary
Creating community in a course, any course, requires lots of student-to-student communication. When done online, that happens through the giving of words -- spoken, recorded, and written -- as well as the giving of images and video. But still mainly, for most teachers, it happens with words written in discussion boards, blogs, tweets, updates, chats, e-mails, exchanged drafts, feedback on writing, and in the margins of collaborative projects.

This talk focused on principles for helping teachers adjust to using online community, we covered a handful of premises:

1. Much of the literature on theory and pedagogy of using discussions, chats, draft-sharing online, peer review online occurred, at least in the journals read by those in college composition and rhetoric, 20 - 30 years ago. But it's only now that the tools which were relatively new then are in more common use. So for advice on the present and future, we need to draw from the past.

2. Research from the NCTE Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction and other sources indicate that most teachers do not have the kind of professional development they need. Local campus training on technology tends to focus on how to use tools, not the pedagogical and curricular design thinking required to make the use of tools meaningful and productive.

3. We describe the classroom as a space/place that operates with both an economy and ecology. Based on that idea -- there are limits to time, limits to attention, limits to cognitive attention -- it's important for teachers using technology to understand two things:
  • When a technology is introduced, it disrupts what was done before and teachers need to make room for it by letting something else go. This often means looking at how what is added accomplishes and whether those accomplishments meet the needs that had been addressed by what will let go. This is not always easy to do.
  • Not all of a technology has to be used -- nor should it be used. But teachers often begin by thinking they either have to use it all or know it all. 
As an illustration of these points, we focused most on the example of the discussion board, a simple tool. And here was the illustration: a good discussion involves writing-as-conversation, lots of student to student interaction that literalizes the metaphor of writing as conversation, of scholarship being shaped by discourse communities where pieces are published in journals, where the citations of those pieces frame the conversation the article written seeks to enter. As students discuss, if the discussion is good and such behavior is taught and encouraged, they repsond to one another and change their thinking -- in writing mind you -- by perhaps, considering an idea they'd not have thought of their own, discovering an idea that emerged only because of the discussion spurred it, encountering counter claims, clarifying what was written earlier and more. 
A good discussion requires higher-order thinking; honest engagement requires considering what others have to say and adjusting -- aka revising -- one's own thinking. So good discussions are a way of invention, drafting, and revising. 
Going back to the principle of letting things go, dropping one thing to make room for another, the idea is simple: if teachers want a good discussion to happen, with lots of posting and responding, then don't also ask that week for students to work on a draft of an essay. The discussion can also be the work on the draft. Keep students focused and engaged in the discussion, and conversely, from a teacher point of view, read discussion posts and not drafts that week. Encourage student-to-student interactions, summarize what students say when you see trends or patterns. Point students to other students, ask them to respond to one another. 

As my time wound up, I rushed out one other example of adding in and dropping something else. Peer review offers many benefits: close reading, careful analysis, writing about writing, treating classmates' words with the same respect given to other reading that is assigned. A written peer review comment is a micro essay, an act of textual analysis with a purpose and audience(s). Teaching peer review online makes it possible to see and review the work of reviewers, it makes the work visible. So doing a week of peer review, and really focusing on it, might mean not also assigning writers to read an essay for discussion, but instead making the work of fellow writers the focus of discussion, where the discussion is carried out in the review comments and response to comments from writers. And because the comments are micro-essays, why not ask writers, when it would help, to revise those comments? Learning to read carefully is hard. Learning to analyze prose is hard. Learning to respond to writing with goal of helping a writer is hard. But it's so important and so central to reading, writing, and thinking. So why not spend time on it? Well you can spend time on it, but only if you let something else go. And it's easier to let other things go if you can see that what you're focusing on also accomplishes the same ends of the things you let go. 

Links List:

NoodleTools -- http://noodletools.com/

Eli demo -- http://bedfordstmartins.com/catalog/demo/eli, click on "Make Better Reviewers"

Audacity -- http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ very cool, easy to learn, open source audio recording/editing software.

 James Lang on Transfer
"Why Don't They Apply What They Learned,  Part I" and Part II

Paul Krebs "Next Time, Fail Better."

Daniel Willingham -- from his collection of online articles at http://www.danielwillingham.com/articles.html
"Why Transfer is Hard."

Seeing the Field from the Field, Nick Carbone -- http://teachnet.blogspot.com/2011/05/c-and-w-2011-seeing-field-from-field.html

The Writing Classroom as Functioning Ecology and Economy, http://watson12carbone.blogspot.com/?view=magazine

Charles Moran, "From High-Tech to a Low-Tech Writing Classroom: You Can't Go Home Again." http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/782

The works cited below is from my chapter in _Writing Online_ a collection forthcoming from IUP/Hampton Press, edited by Phoebe Jackson and Christopher Weaver, my co-presenters on this panel. My talk above was based on ideas explored in that chapter:

Works Cited

Barker, T. T., & Kemp, F. O. (1990). Network theory: A postmodern pedagogy for the writing Classroom. In C. Handa (Ed.), Computers and community: Teaching Composition in the twenty-first century. Portsmouth, NH: Bonyton/Cook Publishers.

Bazerman, C. (2009). Issue brief: Discourse communities. National Council of Teachers of English. Accessed 12 December 2012. http://www.ncte.org/college/briefs/dc

Berry, W. (1982). On poetry and marriage: The use of old forms. Standing By Words. Shoemaker & Hoard: Washington, DC.

Britton, J. (1993). Language and learning: [the importance of speech in children's development]. Portsmouth N.H: Boynton/Cook-Heinemann.

Burke, K. (1941). The Philosophy of Literary Form. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Cadle L., Monske E.A., (March 2013) Deploying 21st century writing on the economic frontlines. Computers and Composition, 30 (1), 1-2. ISSN 8755-4615, 10.1016/j.compcom.2013.02.001.

Carbone, N. (1993). Trying to create a community: A first day lesson plan. Computers and Composition, 10(4), 81-88.

CCCC, 2013. A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI) Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/cccc/resources/positions/owiprinciples.

Coalition of the Academic Workforce. (June 2012). A portrait of part-time faculty members. http://www.academicworkforce.org/CAW_portrait_2012.pdf

Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction. (2011). "Hybrid/Blended Courses Survey Results.” Accessed 1 March 2013. http://www.ncte.org/cccc/committees/owi.

Committee on Best Practices for Online Writing Instruction. (April 2011). Initial report of the CCCC committee for best practice in online writing instruction. Accessed 1 March 2013. http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/CCCC/Committees/OWI_State-of-Art_Report_April_2011.pdf.

Computers and Composition. (Undated). “A Brief History of Computers and Composition.” Computers and Composition, an International Journal. Accessed 10 December 2012.  http://computersandcomposition.candcblog.org/html/history.htm

Gillam K., Wooden S.R. (March 2013). Re-embodying online composition: Ecologies of writing in unreal time and space. Computers and Composition, 30 (1), 24-36. ISSN 8755-4615, 10.1016/j.compcom.2012.11.001. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S8755461512000618)

Hairston, M. (1982). The winds of change: Thomas Kuhn and the revolution in the teaching of writing. College Composition and Communication, 33(1), 76-88.

Harris, J. Teaching Subject, A: Composition Since 1966. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2011. Project MUSE. Web. 8 May. 2013. .

Handa, C., Editor. (1990). Computers and community:Teaching composition in the twenty-first century.  Portsmouth, NH : Boynton/Cook

Harrington, S., Rickley, R, and Day. M. (2000). The Online writing classroom. Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press.

Howard, R.M., T. K. Rodrigue, and T.C. Serviss. “Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences.” Writing and Pedagogy 2.2 (Fall 2010): 177-192. [http://writing.byu.edu/static/documents/org/1176.pdf]

Hjortshoj, K. (2001). The transition to college writing. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's.

Jackson, R. R. (2009). Never work harder than your students & other principles of great teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Kandinsky, W. (1977). Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. M.T.H.Sadler, Dover Publications: New York.

Klem, E., & Moran, C. (1992). Teachers in a strange LANd: Learning to teach in a networked writing classroom. Computers and Composition, 9 (3), 5–22. Accessed 06 February 2013. http://computersandcomposition.candcblog.org/archives/v9/9_3_html/9_3_1_Klem.html

Krause, Steve. “A Very Brief History of Computers and Composition.” English 516: Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice. Not Dated. Accessed  02 February 2013. Available at http://engl516.stevendkrause.com/readings/a-very-brief-history-of-computers-and-composition/

Larson, R. L. (Dec., 1982) The 'research paper’ in the writing course: A non-form of writing. College English, 44.8. pp. 811-816.

Mehan, H. (1985). The structure of classroom discourse. In T. A. Van Dijk (Ed.), Handbook of Discourse
Analysis, Vol. 3 (pp. 119-131). London: Academic Press.

Moran, C. (2000). From a high-tech to a low-tech writing classroom: You can't go home again. The Quarterly, 22.3. The National Writing Project. http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/782

Scholar (undated). Learning philosophy: New learning. Scholar. http://learning.cgscholar.com/about-scholar/learning-philosophy.

Syverson, Margaret. (1999). The wealth of reality: An ecology of composition. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois Univesity Press.

Takayoshi, Pamela and Brian Huot, eds. (2003).Teaching Writing with Computers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Thompson, C. (2009). Clive Thompson on the new literacy. Wired Magazine, Issue 17:09. [viewed 20 October 2012]. http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/17-09/st_thompson

Warnock, S. (2009). Teaching Writing Online: How and Why. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

Wedlake. P. (October 25, 2001). Legal issues regarding Turnitin.com. Email shared with author. Available at  http://bedfordstmartins.com/catalog/static/bsm/technotes/workshops/fullcopyright.htm.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Multimodal @ VCU


Here are a list of cites and resources we used or referenced in the workshop held on Thursday, August 15.

Resources on Teaching Multimodal Writing

 ix visualizing composition 2.0, 2e  by Cheryl Ball and Kristin Arola

Because Digital Writing Matters by Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks

Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives -- OSU English and DMAC

Special Issue: Making the Implicit Explicit in Assessing Multimodal Composition, Technical Communication Quarterly, Volume 21, Issue 1, 2012, edited by Susan M. Katz and Lee Odell
Note: TCQ is available via VCU's Cabell Library in print or online.

Liz Losh's YouTube Description of her Digital Rhetoric Course

Not multimodal, but important:
"Why Don't They Apply What They Learned,  Part I" by James Lang
Part II

Multimodal Composing Tools 

Wix  -- Easy to use site/service for creating visually rich Web sites.

Creativist  -- Multimedia projects for apps, ebooks, and the Web.

Jing  -- Easy to Use Screen Capture Software -- record up to five minutes of video by TechSmith

Audacity -- Sourceforge's fee recording and audio editing software

Flip Cams and Teaching

6 tips from Bill Wolff -- http://williamwolff.org/composingspaces/some-recommendations-for-teaching-with-the-flip-video-camera/

Tips from Technology Integration for Teachers -- http://www.techforteachers.net/flip-cameras.html

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Peer Review Resources for Loyola University of Chicago

From Bedford/St. Martin's

Eli Demo

Spear, Karen. Sharing Writing: Peer Response Groups in English Classes. Portsmouth: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1988. Print.

Peer-response groups must first learn how groups work. Peer interaction needs to be seen as part of the composing process, and students need instruction in how to read each other’s drafts to overcome confusion about sharing writing. Students’ tendency to stand in for the teacher should be replaced by real collaborative behavior. The teacher’s role is to recognize successful group work and foster it. Spear offers detailed advice on running a class with groups, focusing on interpersonal relationships.

Peter Schiff, “Responding to Writing: Peer Critiques, Teacher-Student Conferences, and Essay Evaluation” in Fulwiler, Toby, and Art Young, eds. Language Connections: Writing and Reading across the Curriculum. Urbana: NCTE, 1982. Print.

Sommers, Nancy, and Laura Saltz. "The Novice as Expert: Writing the Freshman Year." CCC 56.1 (Sept. 2004): 124-49. Print.
Findings from the Harvard Study of Undergraduate Writing indicate the importance of the freshman year in the arc of writing development. Writing gives students a sense that they belong in the academic community and therefore helps in the transition to college. Students report far more understanding or interest in courses that required writing despite the prevalence of the novice-as-expert paradox, which, while it “invites imitative rather than independent behavior,” nevertheless enables students to practice with various writing tools and discover their passions.

Sommers, Nancy. "Responding to Student Writing." CCC 33.2 (May 1982): 148-56. Print.
“Teachers’ comments can take students’ attention away from their own purposes in writing a particular text and focus that attention on the teachers’ purpose in commenting.” In this study, comments by teachers directed students to edit sentences and to rethink and expand the topic at the same time. This is contradictory advice, urging students to treat the text as finished while treating the subject as unfinished.

Sommers, Nancy. "Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers." CCC 31.4 (Dec. 1980): 378-88. Print. 
Revision is a recursive process essential to developing ideas, not merely the last stop in a train of writing tasks. Students usually describe revision as choosing better words and eliminating repetition. They revise to develop ideas only when redrafting the opening paragraph. Adults, on the other hand, usually describe revision as the process of finding the form of an argument and accommodating the audience. Adult writers are more likely to add or delete material and to rearrange sentences and paragraphs as they revise.

Spear, Karen. Sharing Writing: Peer Response Groups in English Classes. Portsmouth: Heinemann-Boynton/Cook, 1988. Print.
Peer-response groups must first learn how groups work. Peer interaction needs to be seen as part of the composing process, and students need instruction in how to read each other’s drafts to overcome confusion about sharing writing. Students’ tendency to stand in for the teacher should be replaced by real collaborative behavior. The teacher’s role is to recognize successful group work and foster it. Spear offers detailed advice on running a class with groups, focusing on interpersonal relationships.

From Around the Web

Flynn, Elizabeth A., "Re-Viewing Peer Review."  The Writing Instructor. December 2011. http://www.writinginstructor.com/30review

Cho, Kwangsu and MacArthur, Charles. "Student Revision with Peer and Expert Reviewing." Learning and Instruction, 20 (2010), 328-338. Elesevier. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959475209000747

In a previous study we found that students receiving feedback from multiple peers improve their writing quality more than students receiving feedback from a single expert. The present study attempted to explain that finding by analyzing the feedback types provided by experts and peers, how that feedback was related to revisions, and how revisions affected quality. Participants were 28 undergraduates who received feedback from a single expert (SE), a single peer (SP), or multiple peers (MP), thus forming three groups, respectively. The MP group received more feedback of all types. Non-directive feedback predicted complex repairs that the MP group made more than both other groups. Complex repairs were associated with improved quality.

CompPile FAQ on Using Peer Reivew

CompPile FAQ Peer Review Bibliography

CompPile Results for a search of peer review