Adulting is hard. This is an obvious statement for anyone who has ever tried adulting.
Adulting in academia is especially hard. We have a loose-end life, full of ambiguous deadlines, projects that move in fits and starts, and a revolving door of students – and all of it is tenuously held together by the pseudo-organization of our semester schedules. If you’re anything like me, you live with the constant feeling of never being finished at the end of the day, week, year…there’s always something to read, write, or do.
One of big questions we must ask ourselves as teachers when grading writing is “how much feedback should I give each student?”. As Karly and Jen discussed in their post, rubrics are an incredibly helpful tool for providing feedback about various aspects of student writing. Depending on the goal of the writing assignment, the size of the class, and your workload, rubrics may not be the only way you give feedback. Today I’ll share some of my personal approaches for giving more detailed feedback as well as some strategies that others have shared with me.
As Brian mentioned earlier this week, grading is not always our favorite part of the job, but there are some things we can do to make our lives a little easier.
We previously discussed some grading tips and tricks in previous posts (find them here and here and in this guest post here) that could apply to writing assignments. Some of those include setting a time limit per assignment, grading by section (if you are grading a paper with multiple sections), and grading a small amount of papers at a time to break down the big task into smaller ones. Another strategy discussed in those earlier posts is creating and using quality rubrics.
I have a confession to make. Well actually I have two. First, I absolutely love my job. I count myself lucky to be able to work with the caliber of students at my institution (and the quality people that they are), and to be a part of a supportive, tight-knit department. The individual freedom that comes with working in academia is an enviable aspect of the job. With that being said…I detest grading…with a passion. I do not enjoy grading of any sort. In fact, and this is no joke, when I have finished grading a test or term papers I feel like my soul hurts. Grading is by far the worst part of my job. I am pretty sure I have the best job on the planet already, but if I did not have to grade I know for a fact that I would have the best job no doubt about it.
When I first started teaching, incorporating writing into my classes was not a focus. The idea of grading more than one paper/class in a semester was daunting. But in the last year and a half or so I have come to realize that if I’m not giving my students multiple opportunities to write within the discipline, than I am not preparing them for their futures.
All too often we hear complaints about how poorly students write, but it seems like part of the problem is that we are expecting to students to carry forward skills they learn in their freshman composition classes without giving them much of a chance to practice and develop over the course of a semester, and eventually their four years here, if all we do it assign a literature review paper in each class. We have to be honest with ourselves, students will not remember the feedback they get on their writing if they don't have to use until the next semester or the next research paper. Because of that I have taken up my fair share of writing instruction by requiring several different kinds of writing assignments in my classes from reflections, application assignments, and online discussions to today’s topic, the essay exam.
Learning to write and how to do so effectively is an important part of a college education. Writing assignments can be easily incorporated into upper level classes, but sometimes it can be a challenge to integrate writing in lower level courses. When I had the opportunity to teach intro, I wanted to try to incorporate low-stakes writing assignments to get the students feet wet and also get an idea of what my student’s writing abilities are. I tried to do this in a couple different ways.
When we first started brainstorming about our writing in the classroom series, my mind immediately jumped to the ‘writing workshop’ I hold twice per semester in my introductory psychology course. However, this writing workshop is quite similar to the exercise detailed by Karly in Monday’s post for this series. I agree that making a draft of their essay due for an in-class peer reviewed activity helps keep students accountable, develops editing skills, and allows students to learn from the positive and negative aspects of the other papers they review. I like to have students review multiple papers during one writing workshop so that they are exposed to a range of papers (in terms of quality) and so that students can see the edits or comments previous reviewers left. I encourage students to comment on or respond to remarks left by previous editors, because paying attention to editing style also helps students learn by example. My writing workshop also incorporates structured class discussion where we talk about beneficial and detrimental aspects of the papers students reviewed most recently. The discussion touches on micro-, meso-, and macro-level elements of the essay. At the end of each semester, students comment that the two writing workshops help them improve their essays dramatically, and I can attest to this as well as the average grade for essays in my class has increased since the introduction of the writing workshop. While I agree whole-heartedly with Karly about the benefits of using class time to help students become better writers and editors, I wanted to add something new to the series.
This week at TNP we are discussing writing in the classroom. To kick off our series, I am sharing how I use peer review activities to improve my students' writing.
No matter how many times we tell our students to review their writing assignments before turning them in, procrastination always seems to win out. At best, they may do a quick glance through the document to make sure there aren’t any glaring errors. At worst, they don’t even use Word or Google Doc’s basic editing software to catch spelling or grammar errors. To combat this, I use structured, in-class peer review activities to improve writing. Peer review activities improve students’ writing in a couple different ways.