Tag Archives: writing

Giving feedback on student writing

When feedback is more confusing than helpful.

The other day I came across a blog post on Teaching & Learning in Higher Ed. on responding to student writing/writers by P. T. Corrigan. And one point of that post struck home, and that point is on contradictory teacher feedback.

When I am asked to provide feedback on my peers’ writing, I always ask them about what stage in the writing process they are in and what kind of feedback do they want. Are they in the copy-editing stage and want me to check for spelling and commas, or is this a first draft and they are still open for input on the way their thoughts are organized, or even on the arguments they are making? If a thesis is to be printed that same evening, I am not going to suggest major restructuring of the document. If we are talking about a first draft, I might mark a typo that catches my eye, but I won’t focus on finding every single typo in the document.

But when we give feedback to students, we often give them all the different kinds of feedback at once, leaving them to sort through the feedback and likely sending contradictory messages in the process. Marking all the tiny details that could, and maybe should, be modified suggests that changes to the text are on a polishing level. When we suggest a completely different structure at the same time, chances are that rather than re-writing, students will just move existing blocks of text, assuming that since we provided feedback on a typo-level, those blocks of text are in their final, polished form already when that might not be how we perceive the text.

Thinking about this now, I realize that the feedback I give on student writing does not only need to be tailored to the specific purpose much better, it also needs to come with more meta information about what aspect of the writing my focus is on at that point in time. Only giving feedback on the structure without pointing out grammatical mistakes only sends the right message when it is made clear that the focus, right now, is only on the structure of the document. Similarly, students need to understand that copy-editing will usually not improve the bigger framing of the document and only focus on layout and typo-type corrections.

We’ve intuitively been doing a lot of this pretty well already. But go read Corrigan’s blog post and the literature he links to – it’s certainly worth a read!

Blogging as a tool for professional development

How I see blogging as helpful tool for my professional development.
Before I go into how blogging helps with my professional development, there is one very important fact that I want to state very clearly: This blog is first and foremost a hobby that I do in my free time for my own pleasure, because it is the greatest excuse of all to just play with water and dye and all the other things I want to play with.
But I have come to realize that blogging is a tool that can totally be used for professional purposes, even when done in a very low-key, non time-intensive way like this blog is.
So what are the advantages of blogging for me?
Blogging made me more aware of everyday examples of oceanographic processes that I could use in class. After I began blogging, I started noticing everyday concepts that can be related to oceanography a lot more consciously. Looking at puddles, I noticed how waves moved on them or ice formed. Looking at a spoon in a glass, I noticed refraction in different media. I would probably have noticed those things before, but only in passing, and I would have forgotten about them 10 seconds later. Now, I stop, take a picture with my phone, and spend a couple of minutes writing a text about them after I get home that night. This little extra effort helps me in two ways: Being aware that this specific example could be useful in future teaching, and actually having a documentation that I can build on in my class (i.e. my blog post and a couple of pictures). Plus I really enjoy noticing oceanography everywhere.
Another advantage of blogging is the community it provides. This sounds funny seeing that I write blog posts alone at home, but blogging has opened a new community that is interested in talking about teaching and/or oceanography (in many cases in both, but with different degrees of interest in either of the two). So many people read what I post, and talk to me on the corridor at work, via email, when I meet them in person, in all kinds of settings. Apart from occasionally sharing pictures of cool experiments on facebook or dragging friends down to the lab, I did not have that kind of community available to exchange ideas with before I started blogging.
In addition to giving me community in my peer group, blogging has made me a lot more visible to colleagues both at my institution and at other institutions as someone who is interested in teaching, and more importantly, in discussing teaching and striving to improve it. This has already now, a couple of months into blogging, lead to invited talks. And I am hoping this trend will continue!
And then blogging helps me to make time to reflect about topics tangentially related to my teaching that I want to spend time thinking about, but would not make time for if I was “just thinking” rather than sitting at my desk and writing down my thoughts in a semi coherent manner. Now I jot down topics in a designated spot as they pop up in my head, and make time for most of them the weekend after, or the one after that. Even just writing down random topics I want to think about would not happen if it wasn’t for my blog, so this point is one that I really enjoy about blogging.
As an addendum to the previous two points, blogging ensures I have thought about a topic at enough depth that the critical readers (yes, they are out there! and they are giving me feedback!) don’t find huge holes in my reasoning at the very first glance. Calling this peer-review is an overstatement, but at least it gives me some sort of feedback mechanism before I walk into a class and test new materials.
How about you? Are you blogging? Then please point me towards your blog! Are you not? But are you interested in a guest post here? Let me know and we can set something up!