Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Segall and Smart Revisited

Segall, Mary T., and Robert A. Smart, eds. Direct from the Disciplines: Writing across the Curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2005.

We finish our multiple-post discussion of Segall and Smart with a potpourri of the writing instruction wisdom that abounds in the book. Susan R. Dailey notes that “uninspired writing prompts produced uninspired writing” so she revised her assignments until students produced the kind of quality writing she desired (68). Similarly, Pattie Belle Hastings and Valerie Smith experimented with having students write blogs, and found the results worthwhile (76). Sean P. Duffy found that short linked writing assignments and other pedagogical retoolings enabled him to summon “better writing out of [his] students” (122). Teachers weren’t the only ones pleased with the results of these techniques. According to Suzanne S. Hudd, students as well seemed to find writing multiple drafts of a paper valuable for improving their writing (135). Cornelius Nelan notes that instructors should grade writing differently, depending on the goals of the assignment (148). If the goal is for the student to learn or apply a concept, then concentrate on how well the student has accomplished that, and not on other features such as adhering to the conventions of standard academic English. On the other hand, if an assignment is what educational theorist James Britton calls “transactional” (158), meaning the focus is on communication between writer and reader, then more attention should be paid to this goal and accordingly to deficiencies in surface correction that might mar this process. Describing writing tutoring at Quinnipiac, Andrew Delohery points out a useful concept by asking instructors to distinguish between “HOTs” and “LOTs”: “HOTs--higher-order-things--correspond to the elements one might recognize as deep revision. Here, tutors attempt to focus their clients on issues of idea development, coherence, cohesion, organization--many of the tasks require more metacognition, which is definitely not the expectation of clients who use tutoring ‘to have their papers proofread.’ Initially, the clients, and often, their faculty, default to our tutors to provide the LOTs--lower-order-things--such as punctuation, grammar, and the like before their ideas have come to fruition or have been adequately developed” (162). As Delohery points out, there isn’t much sense in proofing a paper that needs more development in its ideas; it would be like painting a car that lacks an engine, even if it looks pretty, the car (or the paper) isn’t going anywhere. Delohery further suggests that instructors must make “sure not to overload papers with comments about surface-level errors and, thus, [create] the impression that more serious concerns are no more serious than a dropped comma or a misplaced modifier” (166). So, if a student doesn’t offer any support for her or his argument, focus on that aspect of the paper first and then deal with the comma splices later. Finally, as Smart and Segall, the editors, note, drawing on the research of Richard Light, writing is worth the trouble because more than any other factor, the amount of writing in a course matches the level of engagement by the students. And, student engagement usually equals learning, which is why we're here in the first place.

No comments:

Post a Comment