High and Reasonable Expectations for Student Writing

Several weeks into the semester, I begin to increase some of my expectations for both how students submit their writing and the quality of their writing (as well as the effort they put into revision).

One student today emailed me a second rewrite of essay one. When I noticed the attached file was not saved as I have requested, I simply replied to the email, prompting him with the link on our course blog.

He quickly resubmitted with the file named properly, and I opened the rewrite to offer him feedback. I also opened the previous draft to review my comments guiding his newest version.

Immediately, I noticed that his opening was little changed—despite comments on the previous draft and a direct discussion of the opening in our recent conference. While I often struggle with my next move, I returned the two most recent drafts and noted that I could not respond fully unless he committed the appropriate effort to revising his work, attending to my comments and our strategies discussed in conferences.

My writing pedagogy is grounded in some foundational commitments to drafting, detailed feedback, careful revision, and multiple revisions. Since I refrain from grading student writing, do not average grades, and also require/allow multiple revisions, I give myself a great deal of leeway in terms of how hard I am on students.

There is a certain amount of tough love in my pedagogy, and that makes me very uncomfortable.

In all my teaching, I also seek to hold myself to higher standards than my students, while holding students to high and reasonable expectations.

So let me offer a frame of reference to anyone struggling with finding the balance between high and reasonable. [NOTE: I am always struggling.]

Recently, I have edited/co-edited three volumes—one on becoming and being a teacher, another on de-testing and de-grading schools and another on science fiction. Currently, I am co-editing two more volumes, one on education reform and one on James Baldwin.

Here are some lessons I have learned about high and reasonable expectations for student writers based on how professors and scholars submit, revise, and resubmit work for publication (all being offered as observations and not necessarily judgments):

  • Of about 100 chapters, about as many initial chapters were submitted late as on time. Most late submissions required the editors to send out emails requesting the status of the chapters. (Of 24 essays submitted for essay one this fall, only one was late in my first year seminar.)
  • All of the chapters submitted had surface feature problems ranging from typos to problems with conventional English. Common problems with conventions and style included misplaced words and phrases (dangling modifiers were frequent) and wordiness, but basic comma, quote mark, and document formatting issues were typical—not rare. Many files used return/tab to create block quotes and hanging indents—instead of using the ruler and menu features of Word (this is a nightmare for publishing since the return/tabs create havoc once revisions occur and when the camera-ready format is applied).
  • A substantial number of chapters had citation errors, typically associated with not complying with the requested style sheet (for example, when APA was requested, chapters were in MLA); many submissions also jumbled the style required. The list of bibliographies were more often than not a patchwork of several style sheets—spaces, commas, periods, capitalization, italics, line spacing, and such implemented and omitted without pattern.
  • Once chapters were read by the editors and returned with track changes and comments, chapter authors often resubmitted the documents with track changes and comments still embedded, despite a request for clean revised files.

And thus, when I become frustrated with how my students are turning in their work and their revisions, I remind myself of my colleagues; I then take a deep breath and patiently hold my students to high but reasonable expectations for students still learning to write and be scholars.

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Call for a Special Issue of Writing & Pedagogy

CALL FOR PAPERS Writing & Pedagogy, Vol. 7(2), Summer 2015, Special Topic Issue

Orality and Literacy in the 21st Century: Prospects for Writing Pedagogy

Twenty-five years ago, Comprehending Oral and Written Language (Horowitz and Samuels, 1987, Academic Press) was published. Chapter One of that book began with the following statement, which still holds:

In the next century it will be virtually impossible to pursue the study of written language and literacy without attention to oral language…. Speculations are that 100 years from now, not only will there be a mingling of research perspectives, but since features associated with oral and written language and social-psychological factors associated with language processes are constantly in a state of flux, our very object of study will also change dramatically. The lexis, grammar, and larger structures of oral language and written language may become alike, with the norm being a writing that is largely indistinguishable from speech. (p. 1)

 We are soliciting contributions for a special topic issue on “Orality and Literacy in the 21st Century: Prospects for Writing Pedagogy.” The issue will address attributes of orality and literacy that are gaining heightened attention world-wide and that we believe will significantly influence the nature of classroom instruction in writing. Scholarly examination of oral and literate cultures and spoken-written expression and their cognitive representation will influence the pedagogical practices that are advanced in the 21st century in educational policy, teacher education, and classroom learning and teaching.

The special topic issue will include articles in the categories of critical essay, empirical research, pedagogical reflections, technology-focused or internet-focused articles, and reviews of books to be published in the period from Summer 2013 to Summer 2015. We are seeking articles relevant for any level of education or type of writing pedagogy or practice, such as the following topics and areas of inquiry:

  • The evolving nature of orality and literacy, historically and culturally – How are changes in orality and literacy reshaping writing pedagogy? How have the oral and written dimensions of language, whether primary or second languages, been characterized by scholars and how might different perspectives have influence on pedagogical practices in writing?
  • The functions of oral vs. written communication among individuals and/or in given social groups or communities – Are the functions of the oral and written dimensions of language changing within specific cultures or social-contextual settings, and if so, how are these changes influencing writing pedagogy?
  • Interactions of oral and written expression and knowledge development within different academic disciplines – How is spoken language used to support writing tasks, genres, and writer-reader goals of different academic disciplines? How do oral and written modes of communication interact in contrasting types of knowledge domains, such as in science versus history?
  • Ways in which forms of speaking influence writing – How do speech styles and genres work as precursors to writing, and how do they strategically enter into and follow writing? How do discussions influence motivation and processes of writing and the products that are produced by learners? How can students in classrooms progress from spontaneous utterances to more planned discourse?
  • Spoken versus written input to writing – What is the comparative value of spoken versus written feedback or other kinds of contributions on students’ writing?
  • Linkage of oral and written competence across languages or dialects – How might students’ oral or written competence in their primary language be used to support or enrich writing in another language? How can writing pedagogy incorporate bilingual or bidialectal competence?
  • The role of the body in oral versus written expression – How do the mouth, ear, eye, hand, or larger human body contribute to the production of written discourse, such as through incorporation of specific features of oral language, gestures, or overall performance? How do visual and manual processing contribute to writing when writers use specific tools such as pen, computer, or hand-held devices? How should connections between mind and body be studied or employed in writing pedagogy?
  • Timing and prosody of speech and writing – How do timing and prosody through features such as intonation units, punctuation, and utterance/sentence length differ in speech versus writing? How are the rhythmic elements of language and discourse conveyed in writing? How might these be taught to developing writers?
  • Voice in speech and writing contexts – How is voice conveyed in specific speaking and writing contexts? How do writers adjust voice to geographic space or social-situational contexts? How can voice be defined and developed in the writing curriculum?
  • Audience awareness or interaction in speaking versus writing – How is audience incorporated into acts of speaking versus writing, and what are the pedagogical implications?
  • Cognition and consciousness in speech and writing – How does written language influence cognition and consciousness differently from speech, and what are the implications for teaching and learning how to write for cognitive development? In what ways are differences in speech and writing as modes of meaning and thinking incorporated into educational curricula?
  • Methods of oral and written discourse analysis – What methods, including with technologies, may be useful for the analysis of spoken and written discourse, and how can they be applied to writing pedagogy?

 Contributions to this issue may come from researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines, such as Rhetoric and Composition, Communication, Psychology, Culture Studies, Linguistics, Education, Media and Information Technology, as well as from those interested in writing in specific disciplines. A range of methodologies are welcomed, including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method empirical studies as well as historical or issues-centered analysis and pedagogical description and critique. Contributors may suggest an issue or topic that is not listed but that may be germane to the theme of this special issue.

For articles in all categories other than book reviews, interested potential authors should send their email and postal addresses along with a provisional title and draft article or detailed abstract, summary, or outline of contents by email or hard copy by post to the guest editor. For best consideration, submit this by 31 January 2014. Also send a 75-100 word biographical statement that includes highest degree and where from, current institutional affiliation and job title, and major achievements. For book reviews, please notify the guest editor of relevant books to appear in the period of Summer 2013 to Summer 2015 and whether you would like to be considered as a possible reviewer of a specific book or books, for which the reviewer would receive a free copy. If you wish to be considered as a reviewer, also send email and postal address along with a 75-100 word biographical statement that includes highest degree and where from, current institutional affiliation and job title, and major achievements.

Guest editor contact information:

Professor Rosalind Horowitz

Rosalind.Horowitz@utsa.edu

Discourse and Literacy Studies

Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching

College of Education and Human Development

The University of Texas–San Antonio

One UTSA Circle

San Antonio, Texas 78249-0654

USA

Potential contributors will be notified within 2 months of submission of a decision about their proposed contribution and, if positive, given feedback towards a first or revised draft. Both the guest editor and the other editors of the journal will work closely with selected authors to aid in producing a unique and memorable issue on this important topic.

Writing as a Young Scholar/Academic

Writing as a Young Scholar/Academic

Writing in an academic and/or scholarly setting, such as writing as a student, has some expectations that strongly impact how the young scholar is evaluated. Here are some key issues to consider when writing as a young scholar in a variety of academic settings:

• Submit work that has been carefully copyedited. A sloppy document is often viewed harshly. You should run the “Spelling and Grammar” tool in Word; you should have a peer proofread. But do not submit sloppy documents in any academic or scholarly setting—even if the work is a draft yet to be finalized.

• Some surface features of writing are judged strictly in academia—sentence formation, verb tense/form, paragraphing, and overall document and citation formatting. Be careful with the following:

(1) Sentences must be formed purposefully. Great care should be taken to punctuate and form complete sentences—with fragments and run-on sentence formations being rare and purposeful. Often, students are not allowed any deviation from complete sentence formation.

(2) Maintain control of your verb tense and forms. Verbs should be in present tense when discussing the action of a text (books, films), but in past tense when dealing with historical or contemporary real events. Again, students are expected to show control of verb tense and forms—using and shifting these tenses and forms with purpose.

(3) Conform to the citation requirements of the field—APA, MLA, or whatever citation style sheet the field requires. Documentation form, document margins, page breaks, headers/footers, headings/subheads, spacing—all of these surface details matter, and students should be diligent with them.

• Choose your words (diction) and tone carefully—making sure that the diction and tone match the level of your content. Students are often careless with diction/tone resulting in undermining their claims. “Get,” “fix,” “it,” “thing,” “there [to be],” “good,” “bad,” and similar common words are lifeless and beneath the emphasis you want to place on serious topics. Above all else, your diction and tone must match your purpose and topics.

• Academic writing must have a clear focus; often, the primary purpose of academic writing is to argue or promote a perspective. Students tend to write better when they see their essay as an argument of some kind. Can you answer this, “What is the central point you want your reader to understand or embrace after reading your essay?” Every word in an essay must in some way contribute to the central focus/purpose.

• All claims must be supported by evidence and elaboration. In fact, providing evidence and elaboration is the primary bulk of any essay. Claims are brief and have little weight; the evidence and elaborations/explanations are what convince a reader. When discussing a text directly, such as a novel, students must make direct textual references (quotes with citations). When quotes are included in a scholarly work, the writer must integrate those quotes grammatically with her/his original sentences. Here are some examples using APA citation (note the placement of punctuation, verb tense, title formatting, spacing, quote marks):

[First reference in a paragraph]

The Lacuna opens with a sentence that suggests foreboding for the story to come: “In the beginning were the howlers” (Kingsolver, 2009, p. 3).

[A second or subsequent reference in a paragraph]

Kingsolver pulls the reader further into the mysterious tone of the novel’s opening with “[a]s it was in the beginning, so it is every morning of the world” (p. 3).

[A quote of a quote (dialogue), second reference or after]

When the boy’s mother mentions his having a girl friend, the boy responds abruptly, “’I won’t have a girlfriend’” (Kingsolver, p. 9).

• Never simply use cut-and-paste quoting in an essay.

[Cut-and-paste quoting]

Kingsolver’s novel opens with a mother and son adjusting to life in Mexico. “It should have been like a storybook here” (p. 3). But they appear to be trapped in a life they don’t expect.

• Sophisticated writing doesn’t announce the claims and arguments to be made; simply make the claims or arguments.

[Announced]

Atwood’s novel is a perfect example of a novel taking a position on a topic.

[Claim made]

Atwood’s novel forces the reader to look beyond the stereotype of a feminist by portraying June’s mother as a feminist participating in a book and video burning.

• Citation formatting must be followed fully and consistently. With some style sheets, the requirements are unusual and confusing (especially with the format of the bibliographies), but students and scholars must follow these guidelines. Note spacing, line spacing, and indentation requirements; capitalization guidelines; title formats; placement of punctuation; listing for page numbers; and proper citing in the flow of your essay. SEE SAMPLE ESSAYS AND LOOK CAREFULLY AT APA, MLA, ETC., EXPECTATIONS FOR IN-TEXT CITATIONS AND THE REFERENCES LIST.

Recommended

Advice on Writing, Trish Roberts-Miller

Advice to Students and Authors: Submitting Your Work, P. L. Thomas

Writing for Specific Fields (UNC)

Advice to Students and Authors: Submitting Your Work

If someone asks me what I do, without hesitation, I can always offer, “I am a teacher and a writer.”

I am extremely fortunate because I am able to make my living as both a teacher and a writer, something afforded me as a university professor. Being a writer and a teacher, also, are not vocations I have chosen, but who I am at my core. In other words, I did not choose to be a teacher and a writer, but I did come to recognize and embrace both ways of being.

Over the past thirty years, I have taught writing to a wide range of students (from high school through graduate courses), addressing all types of writing from poetry and fiction to personal and scholarly essays. For more than thirty years, I have been a serious writer, working on my own original poetry, fiction, essays, blogs, and academic books. Also part of life as a writer has included working as an editor—co-editing a state journal, editing a column in English Journal, editing two series at two different publishers (Peter Lang USA andSense), and editing/co-editing three volumes (with two other edited volumes in progress).

All of these experiences with being a student, a teacher, a writer, and an editor have provided me with a great deal of experience that has taught me some important guidelines for students and authors preparing and submitting work in courses or for publication. I want here to outline some of that advice, recognizing that advice is often futile; it is the act of writing and experiencing all that is connected with writing that ultimately teaches us what we need to know.

First, let me offer some general comments about writing and being a writer. Essentially, there are two types of writers: ones who are compelled to write (and thus refer to themselves as writers and write regardless of achieving publication) and ones whose situation (being a student or being an academic) include the necessity to write. Each situation creates unique advantages and disadvantages, but I believe it is key for any person submitting work for course credit or publication to recognize which category she/he fits within order to understand what strategies are needed to be a successful writer regardless.

Next, two strategies are incredibly important for students and authors submitting work. One is embracing the life of a purposeful and diligent reader. Reading often as well as reading deeply and widely are essential for writing well. Reading for pleasure is important, but reading like a writer is also key. Reading like a writer involves looking at not just what writers say but how writers craft their messages. For students and authors submitting work for publication, acquiring genre awareness is a primary goal of reading.

Genre awareness is identifying and then working purposefully within or against the conventions associated with different purposes for and types of writing. For example, the characteristics of text that shape poetry (crafting a piece in lines and stanzas) differ from the characteristics of text that shape journalism. Students must gain control over the various expectations for academic writing among disciplines; writing about a work of literature is a different type of writing than preparing a literature review for a research assignment in a sociology class. Authors, as well, soon realize that submitting an Op-Ed to a local newspaper is quite different than submitting an essay to a peer-reviewed scholarly journal.

A second strategy is to seek out avenues for learning about language and writing beyond the formal classroom. One important resource is Joseph Williams’s Style. But dozens of engaging and thoughtful books exist to supplement the type of learning about of writing done in formal school settings.

Now, let me outline some guidelines for submitting writing, whether as a student for course credit or an author seeking publication:

  • In our digital age, my strongest recommendation is learn how to use your word processor, such as Word. Writers must master word processing so that the application works for you, making the tedious tasks of formatting manuscripts less time consuming so you can focus on crafting good writing. For writers, issues of headers and footers, title pages, formatting fonts and margins, handling block quotes, and formatting reference lists can create unnecessary stress that distracts from time needed for drafting and revising. The short point is that word processors will do most of these tasks in ways that are simple and quick; thus, learn how to use the word processor to do anything you need to do with preparing a manuscript.
  • A related piece of advice is “less is always better when formatting a manuscript.” A strong caution I must offer is avoid unneeded returns and all tabs. Two problematic areas for formatting a manuscript are block quotes and preparing bibliographies that require hanging indents; in both cases, do not manually put in returns and do not use tabs to format bibliographies, but do use the formatting features of your word processor. Also, bold and italics should be used sparingly and only within guidelines of the required style sheet. Never use quote marks or bold for emphasis (use italics, but, again, do so sparingly).
  • Just as less is key to formatting, simplicity is central to basic choices about manuscripts. Use 12 pt. Times New Roman for your font. Period. No variety of fonts, no variety of font sizes. Make sure headers and footers also have the same font choices. As well, in most cases (however, please conform to the style sheet required), double spacing is also required throughout, as well as 1″ margins.
  • Honor word count or page number requirements. Noting above, do not manipulate font type or size to reach a page count.
  • Follow the style requirements and refer to the appropriate guides for preparing your manuscript. Many students and authors need to conform to style and citation guidelines provided by professional organizations, such as MLAAPA, or Chicago Manual of Style. Understanding how style sheets differ and why also helps most writers conform to those guidelines.
  • When submitting cited writing, note that the list of references (headed differently among citation style sheets) is a part of the manuscript, although separated by a page break. Be sure to include the references list as part of the submitted manuscript. [Also be sure to include all proper citations in drafts and first submissions whether you are a student or author submitting for publication. Do not submit a piece and state you plan to add your references later; no one can adequately respond to a work requiring citations without full and proper documentation and the necessary list of references.]
  • Take care to provide an interesting and relevant title for all writing and take equal care with subheads (works of 4-5 pages or longer generally benefit from subheads), noting the formatting guidelines needed depending on the style sheet required.
  • Most students and writers will submit their work electronically (pleaseattach your manuscript when you send that email), and as a result, most students and authors will receive comments and editing on their manuscripts through review features on word processors. As noted above, knowing how to use advanced review features on your word processor is crucial. Understand how to navigate track changes as you revise, but most important of all, be able to produce a clean subsequent draft to resubmit. An effective strategy is to save two versions of the returned manuscript—one that maintains all comments and track changes and a second (from which you’ll revise) that accepts all track changes and deletes all comments. Opening both files but working from the clean version (be sure to cut OFF track changes in that version) insures you’ll submit a clean draft for the next round of feedback, for a grade, or for a decision about publication.

Success when writing as a student or writing for publication, ultimately, depends on the quality of the ideas and expression in the final piece, but the initial experience a teacher and editor has with a submitted work begins that process. Students and authors must make that first experience a positive one.

The appearance of a manuscript sends a message about the purposefulness and professionalism of the writer. Students and authors must not expect teachers and editors to take more care with their manuscripts than the student or author has herself/himself.