Why W and C courses require formative feedback
Cicero claimed the orator learns by precept and practice—precept first, then practice. In W and C courses, instruction is precept—what we tell students to guide them in producing that final artifact, whether a paper, a poster, or a speech. Most often, instruction comes in the form of exercises; examination or analysis of models; or discussion, reading, or lecture about writing or speaking. Practice can take two forms: (1) a finished performance measured in minutes or number of words and included in the final grade determination; and (2) the opportunity to get comments on drafts of finished products that can in turn be used to revise and improve them before they are graded. My concern in this post is the latter—what we call formative feedback. (more…)
Seven habits of highly effective communicators
Expert writers and speakers spend considerable time composing, thinking about what they want to say, and tailoring it to a specific audience. They spend time in preparation, doing research, going through a drafting process, getting feedback on ideas, and refining their work. Accomplished speakers often spend time practicing, getting a look at a venue before they start, and reviewing notes or outlines. The bottom line? What separates experts from novices is investment of time and effort.
Students may not know this. Starting a writing or public speaking project even a week in advance of the due date is probably devoting more time to it that they think necessary. In their world, experts already know what they’re doing, so they need less time to produce something good.
As a faculty member, you can build time into your syllabus that will help students practice more mature composing habits. I addressed this in an earlier post, Designing a W or C syllabus: Engaging students as expert writers and speakers.
But what else can you do? Help students develop the 7 habits of highly effective communicators.
Spinning straw into gold: Students tell us how the UWC could improve
When students consult with the UWC, we send them an exit survey. Usually, they don’t include anything on the open-ended comment section, but when they do, we pay attention. So far this semester, we’ve received 390 comments. We regularly check these comments and pass the positive and negative reviews to our consultants. Most of the time, we are praised (332 positive). Occasionally, though, we are either criticized or given suggestions for improvement (53). In this post, I’m going to review those 53 comments to show how they help us consider our practices, improve our services, and set goals.
Provide longer appointments, more appointment slots, and more consultants (23 comments). This is a goal we can meet as long as we can recruit high-quality staff willing to put in the work required to do the job well. Keep in mind that our professional development is ongoing and that we monitor and mentor our staff on a daily basis, so we also need to hire senior staff who won’t spend as much time consulting. We’re working on increasing our staff and our quality. If we increase our available consultations per day, we may be able to allow more than one appointment per day. However, students who want longer appointment times must understand that we offer consultations, and that we really cannot closely edit every page of a 25-page article or a 200-page dissertation.
Responding to rough drafts: What counts in citation and documentation
In my last two posts on responding to drafts of student writing, I have emphasized the need to prioritize comments and to focus as much—if not more—on content and organization than on grammar and mechanics. The same philosophy can be applied to helping students refine their citation and documentation at the draft stage.
While it is tempting to roll up your sleeves and just make the citations look right, that’s putting the cart before the horse, or I should say, the title before the author. Before students focus on the format of citations, they should focus on “higher-order” issues.
Early on in making an assignment, you should have discussed why we cite, as well as defined plagiarism. Students need to understand that citation not only helps the reader trace the logic or check the facts but also adds to the writer’s ethos and puts the writing in the context of a tradition or a scholarly/professional conversation.