Nicole Varty and I recently had the opportunity to present ideas about teaching revision and facilitating peer review, and working to prepare the teaching workshop gave me a chance to reflect on my teaching practices and to think about how I might revise my approaches to teaching based on the things I have learned. Like I mentioned in the workshop, thinking through how to teach revision and facilitate peer review is something I am revising each unit, each semester. Reading Richard Larson’s “Revision as Self-Assessment” in preparation for the workshop led me to think through how I might more explicitly highlight self-assessment practices for my students, particularly using the questioning, reflective approach I am beginning to integrate more thoroughly in my ENG 1020 course.
In my workshop presentation of my I-Search unit (a writing assignment that is grounded in students’ authentic questions about their discourse communities), I included a series of self-assessment questions I might add to the unit next semester, in order to have students think through their writing and decision-making processes more thoroughly. I will present the sequence and those questions here, with some additional thoughts about how or why they may be useful for students to think through.
1. Students post discovery drafts (500 words) on their blogs. I respond with restatements of their research questions, asking them if I am “getting” what they are trying to convey.
Self-assessment check 1: What am I writing about? We talk in class about how developing a topic or research question can take a long time, about how the initial part of the “process” can involve a lot of time, thinking, writing, and re-shaping, before the writer even gets to drafting an organized essay. After we have discussed the assignment and students have had several days to think through topic possibilities, this discovery draft dialogue is our chance to pin down a workable topic.
2. I hold conferences with about a third of the class at a time (Because I am teaching three sections, this allows me to meet with each student for about ten minutes, and not to get overwhelmed. My marathon days are over.). Students are to come prepared with specific questions about their research and writing. The early conferences tend to be about topic development and research possibilities. The second and third rounds tend to be focused on their actual drafts. Check 2: How do I talk about my writing? During conferences, students need to step back and think about their topics, their drafts, their research plans, and to articulate their thoughts and questions to an audience (me). Talking out loud about their writing can help them identify ideas they didn’t know they were on to. (One student this semester regularly says he doesn’t know what he’s doing right after he has told me something really smart about his paper, which gives me a chance to say, “See? Right there. You know what you’re doing. Go with that.”)
3. We discuss model papers in class. This semester, we used I-Search papers with a different angle to them (they were not about discourse communities), so they did not carry the same weight that models will next semester, but we were still able to talk about the style and organization of an I-Search paper. I asked students to talk about what was “working” in the drafts, based on Macrorie’s description of the I-Search paper, and what was confusing. We addressed their beginning of the semester concern about “flow.” Check 3: How do I talk about writing when I am looking at someone else’s draft? Learning to talk about one’s own writing is difficult. It takes practice and distance. But students can easily talk about someone else’s writing, especially when that person is not real to them (the papers were from my work at another school). This discussion highlights key features of the assignment and the style of the I-Search paper, and can spark students’ thinking about their own drafts. We used it this semester as a way to open a discussion on their progress on and questions about the assignment, returning the focus to their own work.
4. Students bring a 1000 word (minimum) draft to class, read through a partner’s draft and discuss ideas, and, via the rubric, conduct a shared assessment of their drafts with each other. I designed the shared assessment activity, where partners decide together how to rate a draft according to the rubric, as a way for students to engage with the rubric and each other, and to provide me with some documentation of their work in the peer response session. My hope is that in discussing their drafts in terms of the rubric, students internalize the discussion, and turning in their discussion notes does not rob them of a key reference later in the revision process. I have used this activity twice so far, and am looking forward to discussing revisions with students. Check 4: How does my writing meet the requirements of the assignment? Where do I still need to focus some attention? In working through the shared assessment activity, students are required to consider their drafts in light of the requirements laid out in the rubric, and can identify areas of their drafts that need attention.
5. Students submit drafts on Blackboard so that I can provide feedback to them via the comments feature in Microsoft Word. If time allows, I ask students to spend some time reading (or re-reading) my comments during a class session. Check 5: How does someone else respond to my writing? How do I respond? Students have already at least had a peer respond to their writing, and now they have extensive feedback from me on content, organization, and style. This is where Larson’s commentary on students learning to make decisions about their writing (and Nicole’s concern about autonomy) comes into play. My feedback does not come in the form of directives, but as questions and suggestions. It is tentative because a) many students have not given me complete drafts and b) I want to convey to students that they may work through both small-scale (like sentence-level) and large-scale (like research question formation) revisions after submitting their drafts to me. At this point in the process, students need to think through what feedback they will take to heart, what they will ignore, and what they need to ask more questions about.
6. Students work through the tuning-in journal assignment, reading their work out loud and reflecting on what they notice as they read their drafts. Many students will cite this activity as something they do anyway. After years of suggesting to students that they read their drafts aloud to hear the words, I thought that, maybe, requiring they do it might be a useful step—one more way for them to consider their writing. This semester, I am asking students to read and think through work by Sondra Perl and Nancy Sommers along with reading their drafts. Check 6: How does my writing sound when I read it out loud? How does this experience influence my revision choices? Students have reflected on what others have said about their writing, but they also need to get back into their drafts and think through how the text holds together, how the sentences sound, etc. This semester, one of my students commented that working through the tuning-in journal assignment was the first time he read his paper from beginning to end. Not surprising, but definitely validating for the assignment.
7. We hold a class discussion on revision strategies. First, I ask students to read the beginning of the first chapter of Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.” In this chapter, Dillard writes about the challenges of throwing away the weak parts of our writing. In our discussion this semester, we found that many students relate to the challenge of getting started on writing and the subsequent choice they need to make when something at the beginning of the draft isn’t quite hanging right. Students share their experiences with revision and their other successful strategies. Check 7: What are other people thinking about when they revise? This discussion highlights revision as a major part of writing and lets students hear what other students are doing, which can be more influential, can seem more relevant.
8. Students work through their final revisions and submit their drafts for evaluation. Check 8: What ultimate choices am I making in my writing to meet the assignment? This “check” is one I think I can highlight more effectively in the future, this idea of revision as making choices about one’s writing. Students write in response to an assignment, in light of their interests, to achieve personal goals (grades, etc.), but this writing can be seen as a series of decisions in response to a rhetorical situation.
I need to think through how I might effectively integrate these “checks” into our work in class next semester. Would out-the-door slips work? Reflection logs that students turn in with their final drafts? Simple class discussion? My hunch is that I will try each of these things in some way, feeling out what works for those students, but I look forward to hearing what people think about how we might effectively highlight such self-assessment in ENG 1020.
Adrienne Jankens is a lecturer and Ph.D. student interested in studying inquiry pedagogy, collaborative research methods, and teaching for transfer.