Friday, January 29, 2016

Overcoming Feedback Anxiety

by Steffanie Triller Fry

I still get feedback anxiety. It’s a very specific kind of writer’s block that inspires a very specific kind of procrastination. It happens when there’s a stack of papers on my desk; or, more often these days, a pile of files in the D2L Dropbox. With those papers sitting there, waiting for my comments, all other tasks in my day become more appealing. Responding to emails becomes as attractive as a bubble bath. Going to a two-and-a-half hour meeting? A piece of double-chocolate cake. Vacuuming all my floors? A romantic dinner in a nice restaurant.
            It takes me about twenty minutes to read and provide feedback on a five page draft. If the time commitment doesn’t exhaust me, the gravity of my task does: What will greet me when I open those documents? What can I possibly say to these students that will make a difference? And how many comma splices can I stand right now?
            With this mindset, it’s no wonder that Nancy Sommers called most of the teacher feedback in one of her case studies “mean-spirited,” and Peter Elbow argued that writing instructors should follow the physician’s oath to “do no harm.”
            At the same time, Elbow says there is no right or wrong when it comes to feedback. Rather, Elbow and Sommers both advise that the best feedback allows students to accomplish what David J. Nicol and Debra MacFarlane-Dick call “self-regulation,” or the ability to become reflective about their writing and take their learning into their own hands.
            I’ve taught with another instructor who “sets the mood” for giving feedback on student work. She gets her favorite pen, arranges her workspace just-so, lights candles, and mentally prepares herself to accept the written work in front of her.
            A strong process, I think. But I needed something more specific, more concrete than a state of mind. I needed a method to respond to first drafts that I could fall back on. I also needed a way to avoid over-efforting, or trying to be the “good student” myself and pointing out every single gaff in form, content, or language that I could find (see “Voluminous Written Feedback and‘Over-Efforting’ Instructors,” SNL Writing News, March 31, 2015).
            I analyzed my own idiosyncratic methods of offering feedback, and isolated five types of comments that I wanted to offer on every paper: a Compliment, an Opportunity, a Comment, a Question, and an Edit. On a first draft, I limit myself to one of each, though I make an effort to choose the most relevant compliment, opportunity, comment, question, and edit that I can.
I still provide students with a brief letter at the top of their draft that gives my overall response to the essay and summarizes the five comments that I’ve made. Then, I have a note that I copy and paste into each student’s essay to tell them that I’ve made five comments, and this is what they should do with them:

In the paper below, I’ve given you five different comments: a Compliment (something you’re doing well and should do more often), an Opportunity (something you’re not doing that you might want to do), a Comment (something I notice as a reader of your essay), a Question (again, something that I wonder as a reader of your essay), and an Edit (the grammar “tic” that I notice happening most often in this paper). I’ve pointed these things out once, but you’ll want to look over your paper for additional opportunities, questions, and edits that you’ll want to address for draft two.

In the time that I have been using this process, I have never once heard a student complain that I did not offer enough comments on her paper, but I have received substantially revised drafts. Prompted not to use my feedback as a checklist, but rather, as a step toward self-regulation, students seem to take revision to heart, looking at their paper again and trying to identify additional Compliments, Opportunities, Comments, Questions, and Edits.

Works Cited

Elbow, Peter. "Options for responding to student writing." A sourcebook for responding to student writing (1999): 197-202.

Katie (Kathryn Wozniak).  VoluminousWritten Feedback and ‘Over-Efforting’ Instructors.” SNL Writing News. School for New Learning at DePaul University. 31 Mar 2015. Web. 28 Jan 2016.

Nicol, David J., and Debra MacFarlaneDick. "Formative assessment and selfregulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice." Studies in Higher Education 31.2 (2006): 199-218.

Sommers, Nancy. "Responding to student writing." College Composition and Communication (1982): 148-156.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reading with a Purpose

"Is there a more common lament among college instructors than, 'Why won’t students just do the reading?'" John Warner wrestled with that question in an Inside Higher Ed blog last week aptly titled "When Students Won't Do the Reading." Discussing both different types of deadlines and student workflow, Warner comes to the conclusion that any assigned reading must then be used within the class—something must be done with the information in order to contextualize it with the larger assignment. He says:
Rather than attaching a grade via a quiz or response, I’m trying to model a world where we can only get to the destination if we make the necessary stops along the way. If you think about it, this is how most of us manage to complete our non-deadline work, by seeing these smaller acts as part of a larger whole and working incrementally as we can. Students have very little practice with this, mostly because we’ve never modeled it, instead choosing to move from hard deadline to hard deadline.
Charles MacArthur of U Delaware adds:
Another solution to encourage engaged reading is online discussion. I post questions about the reading in an online discussion and invite students to participate in that discussion in the week before class. I tell students that I expect them to participate online at least 2/3 of the weeks, so I just need to monitor that level of participation. I also jump into the discussion occasionally but not too much, to support good thinking and encourage different responses. It also makes our class discussions better and includes more students. I can refer to a student's comments, especially one who does not often volunteer in class.  
Note that one good angle for questions is about the value or meaning of the reading for students' own lives. How would you use this? How is it related to your experience? 
Click here to read John Warner's blog post and be sure to check out the comments for some interesting additional discussion.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"Procrastination-Proofing Students"

Understanding procrastination and helping students work through its larger themes is the focus of a recent Inside Higher Ed blog by Steven J. Corbett and Michelle LaFrance. They write:
It seems to us that the more we understand procrastination and think it through with our students, the more we can help them build lifelong habits that allow them to be successful in our writing classes. Indeed, antiprocrastination habits can also help students manage the many competing priorities in their busy schedules as well as help us all remember what’s really important in life.
In the blog, Corbett and LaFrance discuss different causes of procrastination, some potential benefits, how to help students think through their procrastination habits, and the enduring advantages of procrastination awareness.

Click here to read "Procrastination-Proofing Students" now. As the authors say, "We must not wait too long in starting to offer our students some of this potentially lifelong good advice."

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Writing Center WQ 2016 hours begin Jan. 11!

The University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) will open its Writing Centers at both the Loop and Lincoln Park campuses beginning Monday, January 11, 2016. Hours for both campuses are below.

Loop Campus Writing Center
(312) 362-6726

Monday: 9am-7pm
Tuesday: 9am-7pm
Wednesday: 9am-7pm
Thursday: 9am-7pm
Friday: 12pm-5pm
Saturday: 12pm-5pm
Sunday: Closed

Lincoln Park Campus Writing Center
(773) 325-4272

Monday: 9am-7pm
Tuesday: 9am-7pm
Wednesday: 9am-7pm
Thursday: 9am-7pm
Friday: Closed
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: 12pm-7pm

Click here for instructions on how to register and make an appointment. Be sure to select the correct campus from the drop-down box at the top of the WCOnline scheduler. Call either Writing Center with questions or concerns.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Limits of a First-Year Writing Course

In a blog post on Inside Higher Ed last month, John Warner constructed an end-of-year list detailing some reasons why first-year writing may not fully prepare college students to write well in a variety of disciplines. His post, entitled "I Cannot Prepare Students to Write Their (History, Philosophy, Sociology, Poly Sci., etc...) Papers" begins as follows:
Occasionally, one hears grumbling from faculty who assign writing in their courses about the apparent lack of preparation of students to successfully execute those assignments. They wonder what’s happening in the general education writing courses when so many students seem to arrive in without the skills necessary to succeed at college-level writing, particularly research-based analytical work. 
As an instructor of first-year writing it can be hard not to take these things personally. 
I do my best to help students succeed for the future writing occasions they’ll confront in college and beyond, but the truth is, I cannot properly prepare them for what’s coming.
Click here to read John's blog and discover his reasons why students may be struggling in post-FYC genre writing. He also offers advice on assigning writing in non-English courses, along with a final word of optimism that "struggle is actually an excellent educational outcome. But that struggle must be meaningful to students, and so even if they are defeated, they are better armed for the next battle."