Be the Coach for Commenting!

“When teachers give students good problems to think about-and involve them actively in the process of solving these problems-they are deepening students’ engagement with the subject matter, promoting their intellectual growth, and increasing the pleasure of learning both students and teachers.” -John C. Bean Writing Comments on Students’ Papers (https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0B5–sMS-4u43fnFiOHBMVzJjSW1lLVJDN3V3YXVIcXZzNmstdUxNXzQ5eWl2SUlQVVo3NVE)

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The rich content of this article allowed me to learn more about the “behind the scenes” of teaching. There is so much that I want to discuss that I may need to write a separate blog post! The introduction to the article starts with a bang but directly hitting the problem. There is “messiness” when it comes to teachers comments on papers. The treatment of the paper that a student submits lacks sensitivity and clarity. With Bean’s clear and articulate way of explaining how to make this process better, there is plenty of great material to take away from.

Depending on how a teacher writes his or her comments, Bean explains the extreme effect that it would have on the student’s reaction. It could either “enhance the writer’s feeling of dignity,” or it could “dehumanize and insult” the student without the teacher even realizing it. The truth of the matter is when a teacher comments on a student’s paper, their intentions are not to dishearten or discourage them from the work they did, but there is a lack of communication. “Part of the problem is that our comments on students’ papers are necessarily short and therefore cryptic” (Bean, 318). Bean uses the example of tennis, but I would like to use texting as my comparison. During a heated argument or sometimes a normal conversation, communicating through text messages is a “trap” for miscommunication and misinterpretation. If you are not specific, then the messages will be misread. The same goes for commenting on students’ papers. Comments such as “I’m confused” or “be specific!”, Can truly upset the student. This leads to students not wanting to revise, which is a crucial part of the writing and learning process.

Another part of the problem, which is linked to revision as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, is not giving students enough time to revise from the comments that were present on their paper.

“When we comment on papers, the role we should play is that of a coach providing guidance for revision, for it is in the act of revising that our students learn most deeply what they want to say and what their readers need for ease of comprehension. Revising doesn’t mean just editing; it means “re-visioning”-rethinking, reconceptualizing, ‘seeing again.’ It is through the hard work of revising that students learn how experienced writers really compose” (Bean, 321).

What I appreciated about Bean’s article is how he gives tips and strategies for teachers on how to comment on students’ papers. One of the strategies was, “If you comment on drafts, you’ll probably need to do so at least a week before students are to submit their finished papers” (Bean, 321). Being a student, I have struggled with this problem on more than one occasion. I would receive my paper with comments, but I was not allowed to fix them because it was considered a “final draft.” (Even though that was only my first time receiving comments). The second issue I faced did not have enough time to revise my comments. The main thought here, think of coaching rather than judging.

I want to talk about briefly is the topic of grading draft papers. In my notes I wrote, “Okay, can we talk about this?!”. I’m not sure if it’s policy from the “higher up,” which would be out of the teacher’s control to grade a draft paper. I never understood the effectiveness behind that. If it is a draft, then why is it being graded? There should be an overall encouraging and constructive tone when it comes to teachers giving comments to students. With the method of grading a draft, it becomes more about a grade than about learning and revising.

The last part of the article that made me think of a few questions was when Bean talked about using marginal comments to note where the teacher was confused or lost. Being more specific and detailed with your comment instead of saying, “I’m confused.” Although that is probably very effective, I don’t really find it realistic. Teachers have an overwhelming amount of work, including grading and commenting on papers for a large number of students just for one class. At a collegiate level, there are fewer students, but the amount of work is more, such as longer papers. Maybe having multiple drafts will help solve this problem. This was an insightful and helpful article that I will be referring back to in the future once I start to teach.

“When teachers give students good problems to think about-and involve them actively in the process of solving these problems-they are deepening students’ engagement with the subject matter, promoting their intellectual growth, and increasing the pleasure of learning for both students and teachers” (Bean, 336). 

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