Re: your mail

Subject: Re: your mail
From: Romay Jean Sitze <rositze -at- NMSU -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 18 Nov 1994 10:22:09 -0700

On Wed, 16 Nov 1994, Barb Philbrick wrote:

> I believe that they
> will learn more by revising a paper than by just sticking in a folder
> marked "Finished Homework" (or lining the bird cage with it), even if
> all they do is change the suggestions I've marked.

I agree. I believe that learning to revise is important to developing
good writing skills.

> However, I've also tried doing in-class reviews,
> where the class goes over two or three papers and critiques them. As you
> might expect, I've run into problems:

> 1. My students (I'm typically teaching 2nd year community college
> students) don't have the skills to critique.

> 2. Students are terrified to be "mean" because they know their turn is
> coming. I try to make sure positive as well as negative things are
> pointed out, but they're still shy about speaking up.

> If so, have you figured out a method for bringing people out?
> Or have you discovered a method that provides some of the same benefits
> without the uncomfortable aspects?

I have found that if I group students in groups of 4-5 right from the start of
the semester and provide them with a clearly stated set of response questions,
they develop the ability to communicate. Typically I ask the students to
summarize the piece of writing to show understanding of what the writer
said, then find one or two things to praise--this must be specific and
they must tell why they liked it. Finally, I ask them to point out _one_
and no more than one area that needs improvement and offer a suggestion or
two for making the needed improvement. This must be something
_other_ than grammar, punctuation, or spelling. I ask for nor more than
one area of improvement from each responder because I believe that if we
try to look at too many issues at once, we become discouraged and

I ask students to write out their responses (which must accompany the
completed document in question), then discuss their writing orally within the
group structure. I provide in-class time for this on the first couple of
assignments, at least. And I do not worry about whether they always stay
on topic or socialize a bit.

The first effort or two is fraught with the kinds of problems Barb
mentions. However, by the time they have worked
through two or three projects, they have become acquainted (socializing
actually helps the process!) and feel more free to express themselves.
Since I respond to the responses as well as the document, they are
encouraged to try to make meaningful comments.

I have found this method to work well for me. I think the key is to
maintain group consistency throughout the semester, and to provide simple
guidelines accompanied by follow-through on the process from me.


RoMay Sitze rositze -at- nmsu -dot- edu

Practice makes perfect--or perfectly awful.
It depends on what you practice.


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