Thursday, April 30, 2015

End of Year Reflection Activity

clip art by Image Boutique  

I have been assigning this reflection activity for five years now, and have found it to be a productive way to end the school year or quarter for the students and myself.

1. Review the major assignments from the class and their purpose. I use the four major essay assignments, the weekly in-class response papers, exercises on writing introductions and conclusions, and incorporating research. I project a list on the screen, but you could also make a handout. (At the beginning of the class, I encourage students to save all their assignments so they can review them for this assignment. This step is helpful, but not necessary.)

2. Instruct students to choose the three assignments that they learned the most from. These are not necessarily the assignments that earned the best grades.

3. Have them then write a letter that explains why they chose the assignments and what they learned from them. Also have them write about their overall progress in the class, and any constructive criticism for improving the class.

4. As a class, make a tally of the assignments the students chose, then discuss the reasons together. Also discuss the assignments they didn't choose, and why.

This activity is a great way for students to recall the amount of work they accomplished and see their progress. The best part of this assignment, though, is the feedback that I get. I replace assignments that no one chose as learning experiences, and take to heart all their comments and suggestions.

This is the one stack of papers I look forward to reading all year. Most of the time, the students are honest and give a lot of positive feedback, and I have been enlightened by some of the thoughtful suggestions for improvement, which I haven't hesitated to incorporate. Sometimes our students are our best teachers.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Better Way to Correct Essays

I offer significant points for turning in rough drafts because revision is the most important part of the writing process. I have had much success in getting the students to do this part of the assignment, but one issue lies in how effective my feedback is regarding punctuation and grammar errors, and whether students can, or are motivated to, successfully translate my comments into improved writing and learning.

What not to do: proofread and edit. Not only is this time consuming, it is ineffective. Case in point: On one student's essay, I did comprehensive line editing, pointing out every grammar and punctuation error and providing the correction. Not only was the paper almost unreadable when I was finished, cluttered with the highlights and dialogue boxes, but it had no effect on learning. The paper had the simple errors corrected on the final draft which seemed like a success at first. Then I got to the end of the essay, where the writer had made a great point in the last sentence. I responded, "Indeed!"  Guess what the new last sentence of revised essay was? Indeed.

Insert wah-wah-wah fail music here. Transcribing is not learning. It is difficult for me to turn off my compulsion to correct all errors, but what I do now is use a code for each type of error, say a comma splice, and I do not correct it. The student matches the error code to a provided key, and logs a revision. I might give an example of a correction, but more often, I list the page number in their reference books that explains the concept if I think the student might not know how to correct the error.

They don't always get the corrections right, but they learn far more than mindlessly transcribing my corrections. First, they have to look up what the errors are, and figure out how to correct it on their own. They earn points for correctly revising one example of each type of error they make. Although I see fewer perfectly corrected papers, I see fewer recurrences of problem areas in subsequent drafts, and that's really what it's all about.

To see examples of my codes and logs, or if you want to buy mine instead of making your own, click here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Point of View in Academic Writing - the Ubiquitous "You"

When reviewing student drafts of academic essays, I find myself constantly marking the use of second person. With no direction, I find most students use second person. With direction, I find most students still slip into second person.

There are many reasons why second person is the go-to point of view for first drafts. It is the most informal and conversational. Students tend to write like they talk, so second person is natural. They also read a lot of second person online; advice articles, how-to, and informal blogs tend to use second person.

Second person, however, is the point of view that should be almost never used in academic writing. Besides the informality, which is inappropriate in a research paper and other academic essays, the main reason second person is not preferable is because it excludes or alienates part of the audience.

I use a few humorous examples to show this, and that is when it usually clicks with students. For example, I first ask the students, "Who is the audience for this paper?" The typical answer is me, the teacher, but we also discuss that it is anyone who is interested in the topic. Then I read the following passage from a student paper about preventing teen pregnancy:

"You should discuss your sexual activity with your parents or another adult because studies show that if you do this, your chances of pregnancy go down significantly."

I ask the students if I should discuss my sexual activity with my parents or another adult. I also ask a male student if this advice will help reduce his chance of pregnancy. Of course they immediately understand my point, and we don't need to elaborate on how second person excludes part of your audience.

We also review how the tone of this passage is more like a self-help article than academic research. Then I show a simple rewrite:

"Teen girls who discuss their sexual activity with their parents or another adult have a significantly reduced rate of pregnancy" (Smith 21).

There will always be the ubiquitous "you" in student papers, but a simple example requiring students to think about their audience will help them revise correctly.

If you are looking for resources to teach point of view, here is the Power Point and rewriting exercises I use with my classes: