Monday, October 8, 2012


Recently, many of my grad school assignments have posed emotional responses when I regrettably receive them back covered in red marks.  I understand why it's necessary to have edits, but it is awfully discouraging, especially depending on what kind of edits they are; edits to fix my word choice or grammar make me feel much different than those that are questioning my thought processes, which always tend to make me feel inadequate.  While reading Sommers' (1982) "Responding to Student Writing" for class this week, in which the author discusses in detail the topic of reviewing and correcting student work, I was impacted both as a teacher and a student and thought it fitting to reflect on here.

Until reading this article, I had not deeply considered all the issues surrounding responding to student work.  Sommers (1982) pointed out "as writers we need and want thoughtful commentary to show us when we have communicated our ideas and when not, raising questions from a reader's point of view that may not have occurred to us as writers" (p. 148).  Yet at the same time, "we (as teachers) do not know in any definitive way what constitutes thoughtful commentary or what effect, if any, our comments have on helping our students become more effective writers" (p. 148).  Why is this I wonder? Why are teachers not prepared and taught how to incorporate responding to student work into our pedagogy? After reading and reflecting on Sommers' (1982) ideas, I now understand how much this important yet often under appreciated aspect of teaching can truly impact student success.

When students write, it is difficult for them to think ahead about how the reader will respond to their work.  Therefore, when we comment on student writing, we must work to create the presence of a reader by making them question their work, understand its purpose, develop control over their writing, etc.  As Sommers (1982) agrees, our comments help students know they must do something different, and without the comments, students will easily think they communicated everything appropriately and there is no need for revising.  In my own work, if I receive a paper back with very few or no marks, I would assume the reader understood everything I wrote and there was no need for further interpretation.  However, that rarely happens.  But I would like to receive helpful comments on my work, not only ones that are critical or forced without explanation.  I say this because oftentimes, and Sommers (1982) agrees, teachers' comments are quite arbitrary and subjective, leading students to lose individuality in their work, and make the changes because the teacher wants them, not because the student thinks it should be changed.  I know this is an issue from personal experience, where many times I have changed (and still do change) my work simply because my teachers wanted it a certain way, not because I wanted or even understood the changes.  Sommers (1982) believes the biases teachers have determine how they will comprehend the texts they read, and in having them, end up critiquing student work based on their own writing skills.  I think this is absolutely a downfall of teaching (and parenting for that matter), where educators unintentionally limit student growth because they don't give them a chance to make mistakes and learn through discovery. 

Another major aspect of this topic is the difference between editing (changes to improve spelling and grammar) and revising (changes to improve meaning).  I believe the majority of the time, teachers should only be correcting for content, meaning, purpose, etc.. So often, teachers mark up papers because of spelling and grammar errors, forcing students to focus on these mistakes which gives the impression that they are more important than the other ones.  Sommers' (1982) states "our goal in commenting on early drafts should be to engage students with the issues they are considering and help them clarify their purposes and reasons in writing their specific texts" (p. 155).  Teachers should not read student work expecting errors, and marking up their work just for the sake of making changes, but instead give students ideas about their writing, about how to improve, and help the students to see what their writing says from a different standpoint.  As hard as it may be, teachers must focus on their role as a reader, not anything more important or of high power; simply someone with more writing experience who can offer the students ideas on improving their work in an effort to help them become better writers, not to simply force changes without reason.  To help with this, I think it is important to incorporate writer's workshop into the classroom on a daily basis.  If teachers can create the type of environment where students are able to easily read each others' work and make corrections objectively, the teacher can then focus on the "meat" of students' work.  This not only helps students become better writers by learning to work through the process on their own and with their peers, but it also helps teacher-student relationships because there could be more revision through conferencing toward the end of the process instead of a frustrating amount of red ink at the beginning.

Teachers should be working to make as many processes as natural as possible for their students, creating skills that become innate for students and ones they can use independently in their work without continual teacher support.  I appreciate the process that goes along with my major writing assignments my last two semesters in grad school, where I am continually drafting, receiving feedback, and re-working my writing to make it better each time; by doing this, my professors will have helped me in such a way that I will end up with work that I can take ownership of, be proud of, that demonstrates my knowledge and growth overtime.  My goal is to do the same for my future students as well. 

1 comment:

  1. You are right, Danielle. Understanding the difference between revision (re-envisioning) and editing (proofreading) is pivotal for a writer to fully engage in the composing process (process of constructing meaning).