Teaching Student Writing: Assigning, Reading, Commenting

AHA Session 127
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Conference Room D (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
David Laurence, Modern Language Association
Integrating Writing Skills into History Lesson Plans
Olivia Weisser, University of Massachusetts Boston
Reading Like an (Academic) Historian
Kurt Spellmeyer, Rutgers University–New Brunswick

Session Abstract

The tasks of assigning, reading, and commenting on student writing occupy outsize amounts of faculty members’ time and psychic energy. In the worst case, which alas may be the common case, the writing and grading of student papers declines into a hypocritical, mutually resentful interaction. They, the students, pretend to think and we, their teachers, pretend to care. They hate writing the papers we assign, and we hate reading the papers they produce. Even where there is honest effort by both student and teacher, the exercise can seem doomed. Teachers read and comment, often painstakingly in every sense. Yet little of what teachers say in the margins and end comments do students ever read, and even less do students seem able to put teachers’ comments to effective use if they do read them. Which leads to the question: why do we keep inflicting this ritual torment on them and on ourselves? Why not simply abolish the whole unproductive business? Or might there be a better way? Can student writing come to occupy a different, happier place in the work of teaching and learning?
On this panel, proposed by the Modern Language Association, three leading writing program directors and a historian who works closely with her institution's writing center will explore the difficulties students have responding to assignments and the difficulties teachers have responding to student writing. While it would be over-promising to say that the panel will provide solutions, we believe the panel will make available ways of thinking about the problem that open up possibilities for positive, optimistic engagement with the tasks of creating assignments and observing what is happening in students’ writing and what students are doing when they write. In particular, the panel will show how it is both possible and productive to step outside the deficiency model of student writing that forms the spontaneous, unreflected ground for much faculty response.

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