How can I improve my students' writing?
November 8, 2007 8:34 PM Subscribe
How can I help students improve their writing via comments on written assignments?
posted by obliquicity to education (25 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I am an art history professor with plenty of experience teaching art history and no experience teaching writing skills. At the moment, I'm primarily teaching undergrads -- mostly juniors and seniors. I grade my students' written assignments on the quality of their prose as well as that of their content, and generally make corrections on their papers to grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. But the larger issues -- organization, sentence structure, etc. -- I generally just note with an "awkward," or similar short, not-particularly-instructive comment. I'd like to be able to give them more than a critical response and a suggestion to use the writing center (that they inevitably don't follow up on).
After the first assignment in any given class, I usually make a handout that addresses common problems, such as: the use of broad generalizations to introduce or conclude the paper; lack of proofreading; citations and appropriate sources; etc. (I find they vary from class to class, otherwise I'd hand this out with the syllabus.) But again, these categories of problems are more straightforward than the organization/sentence structure/logic problems I feel like I'm failing to address.
Last semester I tried asking students to hand in an outline of their final paper (something an undergrad prof of mine did, and that I found incredibly useful as a student learning how to write long papers), but I discovered that I was pretty terrible at addressing some of the problems their outlines presented. Basically, if a student demonstrates an inability to create logical arguments, I don't even know where to start helping them address that issue. While my front-page question is about written comments, I do have a mandatory meeting with my students once a semester, so in theory I could also address these concerns in person.
Is this something that people who teach freshman-comp-type classes are taught how to do? Is there a book you'd recommend? Or am I crazy for trying to teach my students writing skills that they should have learned in those freshman comp classes, and should I just stick with the "awkward"s and let them sort it out?