Working with Student Writers

bc_alum.off.042We encourage faculty from all programs to incorporate the teaching of writing into their courses, while at the same time using writing to deepen the learning experience of students. In our August workshop on Teaching Writing-Rich Courses (see Summer Workshops), we work closely with John Bean’s Engaging Ideas (2nd edition, Jossey Bass, 2011), which covers many of the following topics. Participants in the workshop receive a copy, or you can borrow one from CFCD.

Bringing Writing into the Classroom:

For an overview of some proven ways to work with Bard students on their writing, see “Bringing Writing Into the Classroom” and “Nine Ways to Spend a Class on Writing.” These include concrete suggestions for devoting class time to writing, with the aim of both teaching about writing (improving students’ abilities to generate, develop, and revise an essay) and teaching through writing (using writing to improve student mastery of the course content). The essays by Alex Johnson and Nancy Sommers mentioned in these two handouts are useful in generating a frank discussion about how students go about developing their essays. When working with upper level students who are grappling with how to work their way into the discourse of their chosen major without losing their argument or voice, this essay by Mark Gaipa has proven very effective.

Commenting on Student Writing:

In CFCD workshops, we focus on developing an approach to student work that is (to borrow a metaphor from John Bean) more akin to the coach than the referee. At their best, our comments enable a students to discover for themselves the promise in their current draft and the possibilities for their next draft (or, if they won’t be revising, their next assignment). Our goal should be to provide meaningful pointers to the way forward while not needlessly burdening ourselves with endless hours of grading. For a short overview of things to keep in mind when commenting on student writing, you can read a short handout from our Lightening Lunch session. Some notes towards effective draft comments were presented at a CFCD workshop a few years ago by Alfie Guy of Yale University and the Institute for Writing and Thinking. In “Responding to Student Writing,” Nancy Sommers argues that our comments should force students “back into the chaos” of their thinking. Her revision-based approach to the teaching of writing is one we emphasize in our work with faculty and students.

Further Reading:

John Bean’s Engaging Ideas (2nd Edition, Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, 2011) is by far the best resource available. See especially chapters 15 and 16 on “Coaching the Writing Process and Handling Paper Load” and “Writing Comments on Student Papers,” respectively.