Academic journal article Composition Studies

Comments to Comments: Teachers and Students in Written Dialogue about Critical Revision

Academic journal article Composition Studies

Comments to Comments: Teachers and Students in Written Dialogue about Critical Revision

Article excerpt

I liked the Comments to Comments exercise because I had a chance to respond directly to your ideas on my assignment. I had an opportunity to give you my feedback and explain what I did and why I did that. Normally, I would have tossed the paper aside after you handed it back, but this made me actually sit down and analyze it.

Anonymous Technical Writing Student

Effective teacher feedback increases students' awareness of the choices they can make and have made in a piece of writing and enables them to discuss those choices with others. Like many writing teachers, I continue to search for the most effective methods of teaching students revision strategies through my feedback to their writing. However, I have felt that the unidirectional nature of the traditional teacher feedback and student revision of drafts process produces limited results in terms of actively involving students in rhetorical analysis that results in more effective text. As the technical writing student notes in the epigraph above, students are not typically required to articulate a rationale for their choices or offer an explanation, defense, justification and reconsideration of those choices. In turn, they are not taught to critically analyze their texts, on which successful revision practices are based. Even the most provocative and sensitive teacher comments generally ask students to comply with the teacher's evaluations and suggestions in revised texts, often without a genuine understanding of the intent of the teacher's feedback. Simply put, there is no meaningful dialogue about the paper between teacher and student, which means that students do not learn the internal dialogue of self-critique needed for performing critical revision on their own. Instead, students associate revision with dependence on a teacher's authoritative evaluation.

Like many teachers, I've used student-teacher conferences to discuss revision with students. However, I've had moderate success engaging them in active, critical discussion. Students have shown difficulty talking freely, specifically, and spontaneously in real-time conversation about revising their texts. Without a conceptual vocabulary to "talk" about writing, students can not critically discuss their writing in terms of thesis statements, topic sentences, language conventions, support, audience, appropriateness, purpose, and so forth. Once students understand this language, they can put this new literacy into practice in intercommunication with teachers and their peers. Creating what Peter L. Mortensen calls a "talk-back" form of interaction between student-writer and teacher-reader could give students the voice and agency to respond to the traditional authority figure. Also, such interaction with teachers engages students more actively and critically in their own writing processes, an important component of successful writing, as Pamela Gay, Kathryn Evans, Andrea Lunsford, Helen Rothschild Ewald, and Richard Beach have noted. However, just as with learning any new form of literacy, students need exposure and practice with the language of revision before they feel confident and proficient enough in the discourse to use it in oral communication.

With the goal of developing students' revision literacy and practices, I developed a dynamic, critical revision method that allows students some time to reflect on their texts and to think about responses to my feedback before entering into discussion and collaboration with me. This essay describes the Comments to Comments assignment, an asynchronous, written collaboration between teachers and students that is designed to teach students to develop, analyze, articulate, reconsider, and explain their revision ideas. Comments to Comments begins when students write their first drafts and I write feedback directly on their papers. The feedback provides marginal and end comments to identify and discuss specific rhetorical strategies, organization, syntax, semantics, and mechanics issues in their texts-both global and local revision concerns. …

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