Presentation Response – Commenting Workshop, 12/2
On Friday, December 2nd, I attended the Commenting Workshop at Plangere. Miriam Jaffe-Foger presented on how to most effectively comment on and grade an Expos paper for the greatest benefit of the student. Although it’s true that as tutors, we’re not the ones assigning grades, it’s still important to understand where the grade comes from, what thought goes into it, and what basis is provided for it. In this way, we can better interpret the comments of teachers on real Expos papers and use them in a way to maximize the student’s improvement in their writing.
There were a number of components of effective commenting that were discussed. One aspect of commenting that I readily agreed with and understood the logic was the idea of identifying and praising “promising moments” in the paper. “Promising moments” are simply good parts of the paper, or – to be a little more specific – parts of the paper for which one can generate positive feedback or that contain elements that the student should continue to use and perhaps build on in future papers. It’s important to recognize these moments of potential in all papers – even the most error-riddled or catastrophically constructed essay needs to contain small recognitions of what’s good. Not only does this keep the student from feeling completely demoralized, which can leave them less than enthusiastic in plowing forward with revising, but it allows the student to see an example of what to do rather than just what not to do in their own work. In this way, parts of an essay that were particularly effective but may not have necessarily been intentional are reinforced for application in future writing tasks, in addition to parts that students thoughtfully constructed and consciously attempted to master. Essentially, it’s crucial to recognize the positive aspects of the paper to keep the student motivated to revise and improve.
Miriam went over several other noteworthy aspects of successful commenting, such as the idea of being specific – just putting a little star or a slash on a portion of text is not helpful! It’s easy to mindlessly skim through a paper, checking off the good and crossing out the bad, but it’s entirely pointless unless you can explain your reasoning. This enables the student to take the advice beyond simply the context of that one paper and apply the lessons to other papers in which that similar situation may occur. Moreover, I found that when I was commenting on the sample paper later in the workshop, having to thoroughly diagnose the issue and explain how and why to fix it necessitated a deeper involvement with the paper. Thus, it not only helps your student to understand better by virtue of being more explicit and direct, but it forces you as a tutor to engage with the student’s work more and better assess the quality and issues associated with it. In the workshop, Miriam also focused on a “triage of issues” – essentially making the point that, while a student’s paper may be loaded with mistakes and poor writing choices, we need to address the biggest problems first, which are generally located in the development of the paper and are manifested in the content and organization of the paper. Again, it’s a lot easier to line-edit and mark up the paper with corrections of mechanical errors, but what will truly help a student develop as a writer – and learn to fix his or her own papers – is concentration on the major issues that define an essay.