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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Strategies for Writing Studio Consultants


We'd like to share this handout by our Director Dr. Kathryn Evans.

Dani
Graduate Assistant
BSC Writing Studio


Strategies for Writing Studio Consultants
By Kathryn Evans, Bridegwater State College

Many consultants find that the following six strategies—when done before, during, and after the “meat” of the discussion—can help students learn significantly more.

BEFORE

1. Start with self-assessment. Ask writers to

· use the professor’s evaluation criteria to self-assess their work
· tell you what specifically they would like feedback on

Beginning the session like this helps you target your feedback to the writer’s needs.

2. Identify and prioritize patterns. When you read the writer’s work, look for (and encourage writers to look for) patterns of issues instead of individual issues. After you’ve identified several patterns, prioritize:

Which patterns are more serious? Do some patterns undermine the writer’s credibility more than others? render an argument less persuasive?

Note that if you give feedback intermittently as the work is being read, it’s harder to identify patterns and next to impossible to prioritize them. Instead, try taking notes on the work while you are reading it and save the discussion until after you’ve read the entire paper.

DURING

3. Favor depth over breadth. Just as readers are less persuaded by writing that crams many brief points into one argument, so too can students be less persuaded by feedback that rushes through superficial coverage of many points. Compare:

“Here you have a fragment. In this next sentence there is singular-plural mismatch. Here is a comma splice. This next paragraph could use more evidence. Here’s a fragment. This paragraph could also use more evidence. I wasn’t sure what you meant by this word? Here is another fragment. Your last paragraph could also use more evidence. Don’t forget to include the page number when you quote, just like you did in your other paragraphs.”

“There are a couple of issues that I think you’ll want to look at. First, let’s talk about your evidence. [In-depth discussion of how the writer might add more evidence.] Great, now that we’ve tackled evidence, let’s talk about fragments. [In-depth discussion of fragments.]”

Note that to favor depth over breadth, you’ll generally want the session to be organized around the limitations of the work rather than the chronology of the reading (e.g., “let’s talk about X and Y problem” rather than “let’s look at your first paragraph and talk about it; then let’s look at your second paragraph and talk about it.” Students will learn more when you favor depth over breadth, and issues that aren’t in scope can be addressed in future sessions. (At the end of the session, briefly mention the remaining issues and encourage the writer to sign up for another session.)

4. Respond as a reader rather than an objective judge. Compare:

“This paragraph could use some more evidence.” [objective judge]

“You might want to add more evidence here.” [implied objective judge]

“When I was reading this, I felt like you were making good points but that I couldn’t be fully persuaded without more evidence.” [an unpersuaded reader]

“Readerly” response helps students see the reasons underlying revisions. (“Why should I add more evidence?” While the first two scenarios don’t answer this question, the third one does: “I should add more evidence so that my readers can be persuaded.”) When students understand the reasons underlying revisions, they are more likely to remember those revision strategies in the future.

5. Ask students to solve problems. To leverage the “comprehension checking” advantages of oral feedback, consider having writers do on-the-spot revisions to solve particular problems. You might, for example, do the following:

· Point writers to contrasting examples and ask them which one they think is more effective and why. You could say, for instance, “Look at the paragraph on the bottom of p. 2 and compare it to the one on the top of p. 4. Which one do you think offers more evidence to support the claim?” You can then have the writer revise the less effective example to make it better approximate the effective example. This approach offers two benefits. First, students have a chance to apply—and thus reinforce—the targeted writing strategy. Second, students’ on-the-spot revisions allow you to engage in comprehension checking—to gauge how well the writer has understood the targeted writing strategy. This knowledge is key, since it tells you whether you need to spend more time on a concept or whether it’s okay to move on.

· If no contrasting example can be found, try modeling what a possible revision would look like and explaining why you think it is more effective. You could then ask the writer to choose another sentence or passage with the same issue and revise it. This offers the same benefits described above—if the writer’s revision is effective, you know to move on to the next point; if not, you know you need to spend more time on the same issue.

AFTER

6. Ask students to summarize. When students are asked to summarize the discussion, they are more likely to remember it. Encourage writers to frame their summaries in terms of their future writing rather than in terms of the specific paper. Compare:

· "I have X and Y problems in this paper."
· "In my future writing, I should focus on improving X and Y."

Framing the summary in terms of future writing can often make the feedback seem more relevant and important. Students' summaries also provide a final comprehension check, giving you one last opportunity to influence what they focus on in their future writing.
Revised 2-5-05



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Talk abt. the option to read silently (probably in #2).

Being encouraged to write down a solution is both a morale-booster and a memory aid.



Your body paragraphs could be more explicitly related to your thesis.

You might want to more explicitly link your body paragraphs to your thesis.

When I was reading the body paragraphs, I kept getting confused about how they related to your thesis.

· rather than overwhelming a writer by pointing out ten different errors, you could note that there are only two or three patterns.


FAQ?

· More than one sol’n to a problem; have s’s pick the sol’n that fits their intent.
· Positive feedback (not just once but intermittently). PE a part of this
· Read aloud once then silently
· What does s do if consultant reads silently
· Don’t be afraid of silence
· Ask s’s to re-read and / or you re-read
· Can have s’s make an outline of the paper
· When focus is a problem, 90% of the time evidence is a problem too
· When both focus and evidence are a problem, generally better to deal w/ focus first

Good example: one paper (Amanda Clay’s) said early on that Zinsser describes four types of pressure in college: economic, parental, peer, and self-inflicted, but s went on to only discuss economic and parental. Problem: reader expects paper to deal w/ all four. One consultant pointed to problem: I’m expecting all four to be treated equally, but they aren’t…the student (me in role play) said, Oh, I just wanted to talk abt. two pressures…and we figured out how to solve the problem: omit reference to all four pressures [student decided to start first body para. with “Zinsser over exaggerates this point…Economical pressure has always….”]) and change thesis to read “…Zinsser is correct when he states that there is pressure in college yet his essay is a vast over-exaggeration of the pressures facing the everyday college student, especially parental and economic pressure” [student added part in italics]. Another consultant, however, told me that I needed to discuss all four pressures equally. My choice taken away.

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