Because of the new state guidelines on remedial education, there may be an increase in students entering regular college courses unprepared. No one knows exactly what the end result will be, but here at St. Petersburg College, we have Developmental instructors who are happy to share their experience working with struggling writers. Today, we hear from Karen Walker (Tarpon Springs):
If you could fix only one thing, what would it be?
Major issues all stem from the primary problem of students not approaching writing and thinking as a process. Too often students sit down at a computer, type some words for about twenty minutes, and expect that to be a finished product. Not only does a multi-step approach to writing demonstrate the expectation that good writing takes effort, it also allows writers opportunities to think critically.
What problem do you find runs a close second?
The major issues like lack of focus, organization, and support all result from students not working through a writing and thinking process.
What error or not ideal writing practice can you live with?
Although they can annoy the reader, punctuation and spelling errors are significantly less important than errors with clarity and coherence.
Do you address writing problems one at a time or do you work with the entire paper?
I approach a paper holistically at first, checking for overall structure, organization, and focus. Then I look for supportive details. Always, my highest priority is content and organization. If a student’s ideas aren’t well thought out yet, there’s no reason to point out comma errors. Only after I’ve checked for the major components needed for effective writing do I address sentence structure and mechanics.
Do you distinguish between clarity/expressions issue and grammar? Or put another way, between content and execution? And if so, how? Do you give 2 grades or mark down for one?
I have used a variety of methods for grading student writing and have yet to find one that I’m absolutely comfortable with. I’d like to do away with grading writing altogether, but since I have to assess progress in some fashion, I generally give a single, holistic grade supported by a rubric of items I’m looking for. Additionally, because I have the luxury of smaller classes, I give students the opportunity to address my comments on their writing and submit for re-grading.
Besides the Writing Center, do you have a particular resource that students find really helpful? Particularly for online or independent study?
Smarthinking provides solid feedback on submitted writing, and the Learning Support Commons ANGEL group has resources for independent study. I used to provide a thousand links to helpful sites but soon realized how overwhelming that can be. Now I use the textbook and my own Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs) or one outside source for further study.
How do you address writing anxiety? How do you encourage a reluctant student?
I remind students that writing well is a skill like any other; it takes practice. If they took up the piano, they wouldn’t expect to sit down on the bench and start playing Beethoven the first time. Why, then, would they expect to be master writers without having done much of it before? In my assessment of student writing early on in the course, I focus on what is working with the writing and I grade on completion rather than correctness. Then, as the course progresses, I hold only students accountable for what we’ve covered and always comment on what is effective.
Thank you, Karen, for sharing your ideas and experience!
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