Annotated Readings

Writing Process

John Dawkins, in his essay “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool,” believes that style and college composition handbooks can be misleading with teaching students to become better writers. Many rules found within these handbooks are not followed by writers (i.e. fragments, comma splices, ect.) when creating emphasis within their work (533). When looking at literature we can see that many of the ‘great’ writers do not follow the rules that students are told they must follow. “Such instruction is negative in that it tells students what no to do and how not to do it…” (534). This direction causes creativity and emphasis within the student’s work to decrease, making their own voice become buried within the handbook rules. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In Christina Haas and Linda Flower’s essay “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning,” they discuss the rhetorical process that students go through when reading a text and how teachers should teach this process to their students. Haas and Flower writer that “…readers construct meaning by building multifaceted, interwoven representations of knowledge. The current text, prior texts, and the reading context can exert varying degrees of influence on this process, but it is the reader who must integrate information into meaning” (168). Depending on their previous knowledge, readers gain information about the text and process it. However, this means that students will have different interpretations of the same text, which is why teachers should see reading as a constructive act that teaches reading instead of simply what the text says (169). In regards to texts, students are able to “…construct representations of content, of structure, and of conventional features. What they often fail to do is to move beyond content and convention and construct representations of texts as purposeful actions, arising from contexts, and with intended effects” (170). While students may understand the content and the structure, they do not engage in critical reading that involves more discussion. This leads to rhetorical reading strategies that should be taught to students instead of simply what the text says (178). This would help build a better representation of the text that moves beyond simply the words on the page (181). (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she writes a section entitled “Shitty First Drafts.” Lamott discusses one of the hardest aspects of writing, and that is actually beginning to write the first draft. Many students feel daunted (and sometimes beaten) by how badly they feel about their first draft. However, Lamott says that the ‘shitty’ first draft is very important because when rereading it you could find something, “…so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go – but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages” (23). While the student may feel horrible about how the first draft turned out to be, Lamott stresses that there may be an idea hidden within that will help the student on the right track to finding what they want to write about. All first drafts are not polished, and that is what makes them important. The second draft is fixed up and gets the ideas in line, while the third draft is where all the errors are checked over and corrected (25-26). In this article it is good to see another writers stress that first drafts are allowed to be bad and can be turned into a work to be proud of. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

Instructor Responses to Writing

In a section of Lee Anne Carroll’s Rehearsing New Roles: How College Students Develop as Writers, she discusses “[t]he between faculty fantasies about writing and the reality of students struggling to make sense of academic literacy…” (8). When students enter composition classes, the teachers usually assume that they know how to read and write fairly well. While there may be some direction on how a student evaluates a text, composition is sometimes left out. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” strategy that goes into a student’s writing career (10). What Carroll claims is that since these classes call for a higher degree of literary concepts, there must be strategies that help the student learn. Students learn better and become writers that are more successful when they continue to confront new expectations in their writing and have time to practice, which includes learning from mistakes. What students learn during their writing career is that there are different modes of writing for different audiences, which they find in other classes that are not English (9-10). In this section, Carroll collected four students’ portfolios to help show how students progressed in their writing and what helped them learn from their mistakes. These students are not English majors, and it helps show what they each took away from their own majors and how they are expected to write. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In Donald Daiker’s “Learning to Praise,” he discusses the problem of composition teachers only writing negative comments in students’ papers with no notes of encouragement. His conclusion is that “…college composition teachers find error more attractive than excellence…” (153). Francis Christensen, another scholar Daiker notes, writes that there is two points of view when teaching English: the school tradition and the scholarly tradition. The school tradition is the practice that many teachers take and “…encourages instructors to respond to student writing primarily by identifying and penalizing error” (154). Christensen and Daiker, however, believe that instead of showing the student only their errors, teachers should revert to the scholarly tradition that has seen the value of praise in improvement. This type of critique helps the “highly apprehensive writer” who may feel intimidated by only negative comments and quickly give up writing. However, for this to occur in composition classes, teacher’s must be taught to both show errors and praise the student’s writing (156). Daiker believes that if comments are even with praise and pointing out errors, students would not feel so discouraged with their writing. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In Peter Elbow’s essay “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking: Sorting Out Three Forms of Judgment,” he discussing some of the problems found in grading student’s writing. Many teachers do a form of ranking with their grading, but that causes problems especially since every teacher is going to have a different opinion (175). Elbow believes that there are three major problems with ranking: “…it is inaccurate or unreliable; it gives no substantive feedback; and it is harmful to the atmosphere for teaching and learning” (176). Instead, Elbow believes that teachers should use evaluation with students’ papers and make distinctions of the quality of the writing (179). Another helpful action teachers can do is teach their students to like their own writing, because if they do then they will want to work harder and make it better (188-189). However, to do this, teachers must also learn to like the student’s writing in turn (193), giving comments where they like the paper but giving suggestions on how to make it better. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In Nancy Sommers’ article, “Responding to Student Writing,” she discusses how the way teachers comment on student papers can sometimes confuse and stifle the student’s creativity. The student will make the changes that the teacher wants so they can get a better grade, rather than those that they think are necessary (149-150). Comments by the teacher should remind the student of the idea of the reader, which is why they comment: “…to help our students to become that questioning reader themselves, because, ultimately, we believe that becoming such a reader will help them to evaluate what they have written and develop control over their writing” (148). Comments are supposed to help the writer evaluate and question their writing, thus making them grow as writers. However, when teachers comment on grammar and style in a first draft, the student begins to believe that the whole sentence is wrong and then change their work to avoid any error (150). The student interprets these comments as “…rules for composing” (153), many times making the student confused about the rules of composition and when they are to be applied in the paper. Sommers believes that teachers need “…to develop an appropriate level of response for commenting on a first draft…” which is different from the other drafts (155). The first draft should be questioning the meaning of the text, while the other drafts should focus on the style and grammar. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In Richard Straub’s article “The Concept of Control in Teacher Response: Defining the Varieties of ‘Directive’ and ‘Facilitative’ Commentary,” he writes about the many examples of commenting on student papers. There have been many articles written about how to comment on students’ papers, on if teachers take too much control from the student and if they should give it back. Straub wants to look at these comments and link them together to “…demonstrate the difficulties we have run into by talking about teacher commentary in terms of the broad categories of directive and facilitative response and point to a more productive way to describe various types of commentary” (226). He wishes to study these comments and describe the mode and focus that the teacher points out (233). The point that Straub wishes to make in his study is that there really is not a right/wrong or a help/unhelpful way. That teachers should not reject all directive styles (which have been called authoritative (234)), but instead adopt some standard way of commenting (246). (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

Student Authority

In Laurel Johnson Black’s “Power and Talk,” she discusses how teachers tend to take over student conferences with their language. This notion does not mean that teachers do not care about their students – in fact, many times Black mentions how this happens unintentionally and the students usually let it happen (54). This problem comes from the difference in power between the student and teacher (39) and there is a major question on who gets to speak in these conferences (40-41). Most of the time it is the teacher, who is telling the student what they did or did not like in their paper and suggesting changes to be made. This is why Black believes that to change this power structure then the classroom must be changed as well (54). This can include the use of portfolios, group work, and allowing the students more control in discussing the material. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

Donald M. Murray’s “The Listening Eye: Reflections on the Writing Conference” is more of a narrative than an essay, which is a pleasant read about how he has taught his writing classes. He says that he feels like he does not teach much, but his students continue to learn more. It is because he allows his students to teach themselves when it comes to drafting and writing (14). In addition, he has learned over the years what kind of comments on papers work best with the students. For example, Murray used to mark up the papers thoroughly, but then began to ask questions on why the student wrote that way or to expand their thought (14). “I teach the student not the paper…I am critical and I certainly can be directive but listen before I speak…I have to curb their too critical eye and help them see what works and what might work so they know how to read evolving writing so it will evolve into writing worth reading” (15). These questions help the student develop their writing further and allow them to have more of choice in their writing, as opposed to comments that dictate what they change. Murray also follows this process in his student conferences, because he can talk to the student face to face and have them answer questions about their subject (17). (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In Ann M. Penrose and Cheryl Geisler’s “Reading and Writing without Authority,” they discuss how many writing teachers encourage a sense of authority over the subject that their student is writing about (516). This, they believe, gives the student more confidence in their writing and in how they present the material to the reader. In this study Penrose and Geisler conducted, they investigated how differences in authority through two students (one a graduate student and the other a freshman college student) effected how they wrote their paper (507). They argue for more of a role in rhetorical knowledge in developing authority, where the rhetorical view is used. If this was used more then students would see themselves as participants in their writing and discussions of the subject, rather than observers when looking over the information (517). (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

Source Use and Plagiarism

Chris M. Anson discusses the issue of plagiarism in his essay “Fraudulent Practices: Academic Misrepresentations of Plagiarism in the Name of Good Pedagogy.” When teaching students not to plagiarize, teachers tell their students that it is wrong to take information from other writers without giving due credit. However, this is coupled with information the students can find on the internet that shows people taking words and images from others. This can be found in businesses and agencies, where it is soon too hard to tell who the original author is (32). Anson points out that while this is technically plagiarizes, it is a different case that represents the “concept of trust” by those businesses (34). He recommends using this as a learning discussion in the classroom and to give examples to students on what plagiarism is in the business world. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

In the study done in “Writing from Sources, Writing from Sentences,” Rebecca Moore Howard, Tricia Serviss, and Tanya K. Rodrigue discuss the problem of students not using sources correctly in their papers. When summarizing a source, students will mainly delete material from the text within their paper or use a sentence that works will with their topic (178). When reading 18 undergraduate research essays they “…uncovered not a single incidence of summary. We found copying, paraphrasing, and patchwriting – but no summary” (182). Meaning that students are not interacting with the sources in a way that research should. Howard et. all writes, “…that these students are not writing from sources; they are writing from sentences selected from sources. That leaves the reader with the unanswered question: does this writer understand what s/he has read?” (187). Selections of the source that students use are taken out and put into their paper, and they are possibly not understanding the meaning of the source. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

Margaret Kantz discusses the difficulty students have writing a synthesis in their research papers in her essay “Helping Students Use Textual Sources Persuasively.” The main difficulty for students comes from taking facts from sources and creating an original thought from it (77). However, students also misunderstand the sources they read as stories and expect it to tell the truth, and do not understand that these facts that they read are a part of the author’s claim (77-78). Kantz says that students need to be taught how to read these sources as arguments and think of the rhetorical contexts within the text (78). When they think about the rhetorical contexts then original ideas and creativity are formed within their paper (86). (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

James M. Lang, in his advice article “It’s Not You,” discusses how teachers react to plagiarism by one of their students. Many times teachers feel violated by the student’s act of plagiarism, especially if the student in question is close to them. He writes, “When my students violate academic honesty, they are not sinning against me; they are sinning against the standards of an intellectual community they have agreed to join. The proper response is to follow the standards that the community has established for such offenses.” The event is never about the teacher, but instead about the student and there is really nothing that can be done apart from fail and report the student – then let it go. (Annotation by Ann Stedman)

Writing Studies as First-Year Composition

Doug Downs and Elizabeth Wardle propose a new model for first-year writing classes. They argue that these classes should take writing studies as their content and that doing so will benefit not only students but the discipline itself. They contend that the topic of the writing class should be a study of writing; students should read and discuss and research issues involving “writing, rhetoric, language and literacy” (553). They cite research that shows that students are not transferring the lessons they learn in first-year writing classes to other writing situations, and believe that it is because these first-year writing lessons don’t necessarily apply to other situations (556-557); they contend that a better strategy would be to teach “realistic and useful conception of writing - perhaps the most significant of which is that writing is neither basic nor universal but content- and context-contingent and irreducibly complex” (557-558), a strategy that requires students study and write about writing rather than about other topics. They trace the success of their own pilot “writing about writing” courses, providing case studies that show that the curriculum works for underprepared students as well as honors students (564-573).

Novels of Visiting Writers

  • Diaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. NY: Penguin, 2007.
  • Egan, Jennifer. A Visit From the Goon Squad.NY: Random House, 2010.
  • O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1990.

Midterm exam stories

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