Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Once again, I wish I had read that sooner

I could say that about almost every article we have read so far but the Summer Smith article particularly struck me with the notion that my students and I would have benefited from the author's advice before the first paper. Still, I come armed with this knowledge as I finish up (and by finish up I mean actually begin and eventually finish) grading the second unit essay and beyond. In that regard, I'm thankful for procrastination. Anyway, "The Genre of the End Comment" on the one hand, crystallized some vague notions I have had about what not to do and made me aware of some mistakes I have been making in the process of end comments and comments throughout my student's papers.

Some stupid things I have been doing include the fragment. This one is probably the most stupid and pointless (and shame-inducing) as it obviously has no purpose other than functioning as a very small and uncomfortable pillow shielding the student from the hammer blows of constructive criticism. I found myself somewhat urgently looking back through my graded papers and preliminary drafts. There I found, "Good job." "Great point, overall." "Nice work." How about, "Bullshit?" My flagrant fragments are only setting my students up for failure, as I feel they are both vague and arbitrary. Why is it nice work? What is nice about it? What am I even referencing?

Another mistake of which I am now aware is my sticking to the compliment-criticism-compliment sandwich form. It is so tired in so many ways. This end-comment's formula has likely become ingrained into students through high school and in order to more effectively guide students, instructors (in college!) need to try something different --something healthier than a bullshit sandwich. It would certainly catch my attention if an instructor addressed me personally, commented on my successes specifically and examined my (paper's) failures critically but encouragingly.

I was glad to know that some of my techniques seem to be productive. I tend to focus on a paper's specific strengths and weaknesses while not overloading it with comments. I usually tend not to use fragments and I feel as I get to know students better, I will approach praise and criticism more personally. I will say I am not afraid to address some papers more critically than others while not soullessly tearing into students' self-confidence. That's good, I think.

My End Comment for Smith's "The Genre of the End Comment":

She does a lot of things well in her article --clarification of the study, a comprehensive overview of genre, logical conclusions, and definitely made me more aware of my potentially unproductive and even detrimental employment (and internalization) of the conventions of the end-comment genre.

However, I am somewhat unclear as to how comments might effect students. In several footnotes, Smith mentions a study by Claudia Keh concerning students' views of the helpfulness of different comments --however, I feel I would have benefited from more specific examples. Granted, the theories implied in her argument are highly logical and I want to believe them but I cannot help but be somewhat suspicious.

I would also argue that perhaps concluding the end comment with some praise is not always the best strategy even in the coaching genre as seem to be implied (264). I have read another study focusing on managerial practices and often when a co-worker receives constructive criticism followed up by some sort of praise, there is often a tendency to entirely disregard the criticism in favor of the praise. This has to do with a psychological theory based on the observation that we remember the first and the last items in a sequence better than the rest of its content and perhaps this applies to writing and speech as well.

Finally, I am a little reluctant to examine the end-comment outside of its context(s): its situation at the end of a paper full of other comments and perhaps in relationship to other comments on previous drafts of the same paper. There is a tendency to comment less on final drafts than preliminaries, I think.

However, these 'shortcomings' I feel, are just avenues for future research on a fascinating subject of which I was unaware before Smith's interesting piece.

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