Tag Archives: first-year writing

Gaming Revision

http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/csg_writing-the-revision-process-tone.jpg“I tried to leave some things so that I would have something to revise.”

This is what I heard as I walked through a group of students congregating in the hall outside a classroom. They were waiting for the room to empty so their class could begin.  It’s not the first time I’ve heard this, but it is the first time it resonated. Let me explain.

At a faculty retreat a couple of weeks ago, I got into a discussion with two colleagues about whether or not students should be required to write multiple drafts in our first-year writing program. They both firmly believed that some students didn’t need to create multiple drafts to produce quality writing.

“No one sits down and produces a final draft without revision,” I boldly paraphrased Ann Lamott.

“Sure they do. What about Tweets?” One of them responded.

“I proof all my Facebook posts and Tweets,” I said, which is true even though I still perform errors fairly regularly, much to my dismay.

“Well, you’re the only one,” she said.

We decided at this point to agree to disagree and move to a different topic, but three days later I heard the comment above from the student in the hall, and then two days after that a different colleague expressed frustration that her students go through two revisions before she sees their drafts yet they still turn in writing that isn’t where she’d expect it to be.

This is where I sit today — confused and rethinking how I’m approaching revision in my own writing class. We all see the drafts that seem to have been written the night before, even from students we know are diligent and detail-oriented. Why? It’s because revision has become one of many games students have become masterful at playing.

Think of it this way: when revision is part of assessment, students feel compelled to revise … a lot. But what about those students who can do effective self-assessment? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking that we turn the clocks back on first-year writing praxis and approach writing as product rather than process, but I do think we should entertain the idea that some students just might produce something very close to a final draft the first time, and we should relieve those students from the unnecessary stress of fabricating revisions just to satisfy our own misguided need to see distinct difference between drafts. I don’t claim to have the answers as I’m still working through this, but one thing I recommend is to simply read your students’ first drafts as if they’re final drafts and encourage peer responders to do the same. Just ask questions and offer reactions rather than actively seeking areas that need revision. Most of us are already doing some semblance of this, but if we shift one more notch and tweak just a bit more how we’re approaching feedback, we could see our students begin to offer us higher quality drafts, and that means we can genuinely push them ahead in their writing development.

Another interesting sidenote for anyone who cares: I’m in the beginning stages of conducting research into response methods. I’m curious to see how the movements through peer and teacher response impact student learning. Thank goodness I didn’t decide to repeat what has been done too much already in our field — measuring the quality of revisions.

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Filed under first-year writing, FYC, grammar, Inquiry, teaching, Writing

The Trouble With Inquiry

imageDictionary.com defines inquiry as “a seeking or request for truth, information, or knowledge,” but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how that translates into our curriculum. Are we guiding our students into “seeking … knowledge” or just “request[ing] information”? What does genuine inquiry-based research look like?

When you think about it, a thesis-driven project fulfills the Dictionary.com definition perfectly. It begins with an hypo[thesis] and continues through the research phase until enough knowledge or “truth” is compiled to compose an essay. If you fail to prove your thesis, your essay ends up in a different place than it began, but if you can dig up enough evidence, the path from beginning to end is a straight line. An inquiry-driven project begins with a question … okay that’s different … then the researcher tries to discover the answer rather than prove an already formulated statement … umkay, still different … it ends with the researcher … doing what? This is the question I keep asking. What do we want our students to DO with this newly-developed understanding of their topic? How does inquiry-based research affect the final product?
If we’re asking them to write an essay, there are three approaches: report, argue, or explore.

The first option is easily dismissed. We know we don’t want a report, right? It culminates into that r-word we’ve devalued in our program, regurgitation. In academia, you strive to create something new, offer a different perspective to the discourse community you’re researching. Not much is gained by simply summarizing what’s already been said, but, as the senior in my class last fall pointed out, skill in summarizing is highly valued in most disciplines and is essential in the workplace. Rarely had she been asked to do much else, and she was on the verge of graduating. Not to mention that reporting inherently involves synthesis, the meshing together of perspectives in a way that, when performed with intention, does have value for both the writer and the audience.

Surely an argument is better, especially when the stance stems from research. But doesn’t an argument push students back into the comfort zone of formula? Haven’t they written arguments over and over again in the form of 5-paragraph essays? Then again, if we’re honest, the thesis-driven essay still dominates our campus, so practicing it one more time might be helpful. After all, our curriculum goal focuses more on where students begin their projects than where they end up.

So what about the third option, exploring? Is this a viable academic exercise? When I think of exploration, I think wishy-washy, uncommitted, disempowered writing. Shouldn’t an exploration be the beginning rather than the ending of a college writing course? And what exactly does an exploratory essay look like? I guess you write through ideas you’ve uncovered through research and share them without taking a stance. Hmmm … sounds like journalism. Now that I think about it, that could be worthwhile too, depending on an individual student’s career goals or weaknesses. I mean, you all know me well enough by now to know I always have an opinion. While I was growing up, my mother used to say I would argue with a stopsign. So perhaps writing an exploration, honestly representing multiple perspectives and allowing a reader to make up his or her mind has value on the individual level as well.

Now I’m back to my original concern. What should my students do after their research? This semester I tried something different. I purposefully withheld guidelines for what was coming after the research and then had small-group workshops to flesh out basic things like purpose and audience. I explained that I wanted them to do a real-world writing piece and then asked the groups to consider what genre might best fulfill each purpose and what medium would most likely reach each audience.

I admit I’m nervous about this shift. I’m worried that I’m misguiding students in what should be a foundational writing exercise for college courses because I’m not sure composing a speech to Congress or creating a podcast on mind-body healing fulfills that. I will say that my students are excited about their projects, so that can’t be bad, but, again, am I reinforcing the notion that “good” writing is inevitably linked to the level of personal engagement a student has with a topic/project?

One thing’s for sure, I am fulfilling the course description, possibly for the first time. My previous approach lacked any real genre exploration other than the difference between a proposal (which I now feel is misnamed in light of our faculty meeting discussion), an annotated bibliography, and an essay. Another area my previous design lacked was any valid exploration of voice. I was teaching the concept of voice as mostly a stylistic choice rather than awareness with regard to purpose, audience, and genre.

The bottom line is that I’m still working out, as you all are, how to navigate this new curriculum, but I’m sure learning a lot by continuously performing my own inquiry into my teaching practices/values.

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Filed under first-year writing, FYC, Higher Ed, Inquiry, Uncategorized, Writing