Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Commenting Manifesto Freebie

Caution: Freebie for My Followers ahead!
Commenting is something that I didn't used to discuss with my students.  Sure, I would read my students' papers and mark allllll over them.  I felt like I was imparting my wisdom.  After all, I had studied this content intensely... shouldn't I be sharing my wisdom?

It wasn't until I read and heard Nancy Sommers talk about Responding to Student Writing that my philosophy of commenting completely changed.  Where as before I would mark up the drafts as much as I could, now I follow the Minimal Marking Philosophy (though I'm not a devout disciple).  I give my students one long note at the end of the paper that points out the general strengths and weaknesses dealing with global issues like logic, reasoning, organization, purpose, etc.  Not only do I point out the weaknesses but I give them suggestions as to how to improve.  They're no longer overwhelmed with corrections that they need to make.  Instead, they are focused on developing their writing in a deeper and more fruitful way.

But what does all of this mean if we don't have a conversation with them about essay commenting?

Absolutely nothing.  Our students need to be involved in the commenting process.  Sommers suggests to create a class manifesto.  

Bouncing off of that idea, I have my students create a Mini-Class Manifesto on Commenting with a small group.  They collaborate with 4 peers to create 4 general guidelines for paper commenting.  That means they need to boil it down to the 4 most important elements to a successful essay.  This is hard work!
(to get your hands on this bad boy, see the directions down below!)

Not only that, but they need to give a full description of what that guideline entails.  So instead of suggesting we comment on organization, they have to be explicit with what makes a good organization or why organization is important to an essay.  Furthermore, their Mini-Class Manifesto on Commenting has to include sample comments representing these guidelines.  So what would a helpful comment on organization look like to them?

Once they have finished creating this Manifesto on Commenting, they then need to try it out! Let them experience what it is like to comment on an essay with certain expectations.  Then have a discussion about it.

What worked?
What didn't work?  Why?
What comments kept popping into their heads that didn't fit their criteria?

In general, this exercise is very beneficial to the students.  They get a first-hand look at the grading process.  Even better, they give you insight into what's most important to them!

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