Thursday, November 5, 2015

Students' perspective

I asked my students to give me their perspective on my feedback.  Two of my students sent me a paragraph to describe how they feel about comments/feedback to their writing.  I thought it would be enlightening to hear directly from them.

"The response I get in regards to my writing are very helpful, and serves a role in its evolution. Without your corrections and comments, I would still be confused over tense and subject agreements, and placed commas in awkward spots (and I most likely still do). The only problem I have is that you are often not strict enough with your feedback. Sometimes, I would notice errors in my work, and often feel that my writing is scattered and nonsensical. I would like to see more comments into how I can improve my writing not only with grammatical/spelling corrections, but also as a whole. I may be taunting the lion here, but please do not hold back."

"I was always told that I had a knack for writing. I let that comment feed my ego. I always thought I could out write everyone around me. My experience in college has been a very humbling one. It's the first time a college level English Instructor has critiqued my work and proofread my writing. I never saw my writing any other way until now. I discovered throughout my professor critiques that I had a habit of using too many filler words. I caught myself doing it in later assignments and corrected myself during my first and second drafts of the writing assignments. Now that I'm writing at a college level, I welcome all and any critique of my writing. It has helped me improve myself as a writer. I write much more efficiently as a result."

Monday, November 2, 2015

Kinder, gentler feedback

My manuscript is getting read by editors, and so far, the rejections follow.  The last two rejections included some helpful suggestions, so I have shortened the manuscript, taken out some characters, and added a scene to clarify the identify of one character.  A list of characters, both historical and non-historical, is now available.

But let's face it - rejection hurts.  As I have read the notes written by editors, it occurred to me that the feedback I provide for students is similar to the feedback I have been receiving.  Recently the editors are not writing the generic "this is not a good fit for us" but the more specific "the number of characters is daunting. As times shift, it’s hard to keep anchor. "  I admit 45 characters may seem overwhelming, though some of my favorite Charles Dickens' books have more characters.  I'm not comparing myself to the indomitable Charles Dickens - but sweeping historical novels often need many characters to populate the space and time. 

As I read the notes from editors like "it's definitely a 'no' at this point," I think of the notes I write on my students' work.  Do my messages encourage them, or discourage them?  Do they inspire students to work harder, or hurt their feelings?  I'm thinking a lot more about what I'm writing, and how I'm communicating in the feedback I give students on their written work.  I hope that by examining myself, and the way I communicate how students can improve their writing, I will become a better teacher.  And as I seriously consider the feedback I receive, a better writer as well. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Students' Learning Styles

A year has come and gone, and I'm back to blogging once again.  Join me as I ponder how to teach writing well, how to write well, and how to enjoy literature.

During the summer I spent two weeks on a fascinating seminar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities on Slavery in the American Republic.  I'll be blogging about some of the things I learned during that trip in future blogs.

For now I will focus on learning styles, and how to reach students with varied learning styles in the writing and literature classroom.  One of my colleagues recently discovered his first-grade daughter may have dyslexia.  As he processed all that a diagnosis might mean, I began to think about how I teach students who don't learn best by traditional reading methods.  I found a helpful exercise as I was searching online for a way to teach Oedipus the King in my World Literature class. Here is what we did.

I presented four scenarios and had students move to the corner of the room representing their view.  The first question was "who or what determined Oedipus' fate?"  They could choose "the gods," "Oedipus himself," "fate," or "no one.."  A majority of students congregated at "the gods" corner.  Then a spokesperson from each corner of the room had to articulate why he or she chose each position.  Students had an opportunity to move to a different corner, and some did.

This is a simple exercise, but the students seemed to really enjoy it.  They got to get up and move around -- so it kept them awake.  They had to articulate their position, so it involved speech and persuasion, and there was no reading involved.  I will definitely use this exercise again, and I encourage you to try it in your classes.  Let me know how it goes!