Friday, 19 February 2016

Helping students write better (2)

This week I read the Royal Literary Fund's very helpful Essay Guide and Dissertation Guide. Long documents both, but the gist is simple: rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

The following day a colleague showed me the stats for the 'writing advice' website they run for their students. The 'writing discussion' page received 105 visits, the most recent being the day previously, but the 'share and critique' page was visited only 5 times.

Can you see the mismatch? The experts say that rewriting is the key to producing good work, but students are reluctant to show their work to others, which if not the first step in that process is surely the most vital.

So here are some thoughts about how students can be encouraged to share their work and receive feedback:

  1. Show your own work. I recently finished a long research article that had already been presented at two conferences and completely rewritten each time, so this was the third version - and I don't expect it to be the last. Do students know this is how work gets to the stage where it is considered for publication? Many departments run 'meet your professor' activities where students read an article and then talk to the author about the process of writing. Or why not talk about the view from the other side, by sharing and discussing a journal's 'reader comment form' and what it's like to review colleagues' work? 
  2. This term I invited my students to share their work via an application on our university's 'virtual learning environment', whereby their draft essays will be passed anonymously to two peer reviewers, who have also submitted drafts for review; each will each write feedback and send it back, and in return will receive two bits of feedback on their own drafts. It wasn't easy to set up but I hope they will use it and find it useful - watch this space. See also Richard Milne's successful example of student peer review of essays in a different subject.
  3. If asking the students to present or develop their work or ideas in a seminar, give the other students something to do that will a) keep them occupied, b) help the speaker feel less conscious, c) yield some feedback to the speaker. Tried and tested methods include asking the group to devise a feedback form that incorporates the key marking criteria, which they then use to write comments and suggestions.


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