Guided Peer Response & Reflection

Monday, October 24, 2016

Finding our Voice-In Our Writing and In Our Comments

“Response to Student Writing”
By Nancy Sommers

“Check your commas and semi-colons and think more about what you are thinking about” (151).

I actually L.O.L.ed when I read this quote, referencing one teacher’s command to his student. I found it hysterical that we are continuing to see these types of comments on students papers and expecting high quality revisions from our students in return.

In this article, Sommers begins by stating that “teaching writing, responding to and commenting on student writing” consumes most of our time as teachers. She later states that to defend teachers, most of us have not had proper training in responding to drafts to help students revise their ideas. I completely agree with this claim. When I think back to my training in undergrad, we were trained on pre-writing strategies, as well as the traditional structure of a five paragraph essay. I was not trained in the workshop model with conferencing, until I was exposed to professional development my school brought in, along with my training through attending Teacher’s College Summer Institute. Sommers makes the argument that we have been conditioned to write generic, rubber-stamped comments on student papers, which makes it difficult for the student to assess which needs should be addressed first. The student also falls under the assumption that their ideas are already there, meaning the the meaning they want to convey is already there and they only need to “clean up” their paper, such as focusing on grammar. In reality, most students need to strengthen and develop their ideas but are not given the instruction needed to do so.

I believe that students need to be trained to discuss their writing, and as a teacher at the middle school level, this is a constant struggle for them. When asking students to discuss their work, occasionally they are able to do so, but when I leave them to revise, they immediately turn to me and ask, “Wait, what do you want me to write?” They do not have any control over their writing and need to learn to take ownership over their ideas.

I found the study conducted regarding the program “Writer’s Workbench” where computers will comment on student papers. I wonder if students are more inclined to listen to a computer, because they are so programmed to use technology that they value those comments more than their teachers? If that is the case, I am worried about what our world will come to and what that says about the need for teachers in a technological world. From personal experience, I missed a few days of school due to an illness, but was able to create interactive presentations for the students, where the directions were posted, assignments were completed, and all was shared through Google Classroom. I was able to interact by commenting on the students slides, grading their assignments, and offering help all without leaving my bed. Now we have programs that grade and comment for us as well? Makes me wonder if this will undervalue teachers even more than we are undervalued now?

The article continues to discuss the idea that students are confused by teacher’s comments, but there is also confusion between process and product. Do we care more about how the student gets there or what the final paper is? This year I began to tell my students their final draft is really a “deadline” draft and that writing is never fully finished.

I also felt that this article critiqued teachers practice, but forgot about the students. Speaking again with a middle school background, teachers aren’t perfect, but neither are our kids. It’s time to put the learning back on the students and less about teacher’s comments to get the students there. Gone are the days were you assign a project or homework and the students simply come in with it done. Now we need to hold their hands. Students expect to just “find” the answers in a text or in writing, rather than coming up with their own answers and their own ideas. No amount of questioning from me as the teacher is going to make them any less lazy. If revision is a “sense of discovery”, our students need to be the ones to do the discovering.

“Reconsiderations: Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries”
By Peter Elbow

I enjoyed that Elbow begins by stating the story of voice, referencing the Greek philosophers. I agree with Aristotle’s claim refusing the either/or conflict regarding voice, essentially that “It helps to be trustworthy; but, if you’re skilled, you can fake it” (169). When we have control over our voice and our ideas, we are able to manipulate them, and in essence, manipulate our point.
Elbow brings up substantial points that voice is alive and thriving in both politics and through the Internet, whether it’s email, social media, or blogs. As a teacher, if I were to have students analyze voice in each of these media, my students would grasp the concept. They could identify their own voice in their writing outside of the classroom, as well as distinguish how they write from someone else. However, when it comes to writing in the classroom, I fear identifying voice is a lost cause.
I also appreciate Elbow’s claim that readers hear voice in text, using the example of saying “hello” different ways to create meaning. However, I immediately thought about voice in writing, which Elbow proceeds to explain. Elbow explains that this is challenging, which as a teacher struggling with this, I appreciate. He offers the idea of having students continuously read their writing aloud in order to develop or better hear their voice. It is possible, that they best way to teach voice in writing is to analyze it in reading extensively. If students can’t identify voice, and examples of it, then they can’t begin to identify and use their own voice. I find that students are able to find their voice more in the creative writing pieces we do, and less in the academic. In order to better teach this, I believe that finding academic essays to read in order to develop voice. However, if voice can mislead readers, how do we use it? How do I teach students to pay attention to voice and “push it away” at the same time? Do we teach them that there is a time and a place for paying attention to voice and pushing it away? Ultimately, the question this article left me with was is voice more helpful or harmful?

In addition to this week’s reading, I was mulling over some ideas for my Genius Hour writing project. One idea I had was to get permission from my principal to videotape students and ask them “Why they write?”. I pride myself in cultivating a classroom environment of readers, but would like to cultivate one of writers as well. I was considering exploring what makes students write and how to foster their engagement. I was also tossing around some other ideas and answering a more focused question of: What can I learn about myself through writing? Or how does writing help us deal with issues? I bought a few books for my library that deal with teenagers suffering from OCD. I feel that I have some OCD tendencies but have shied away from reading these novels in case they trigger my OCD. I then thought about writing poetry or a novel from this perspective. I would possibly explore how reading about them or writing about real issues to me would help to overcome them?

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