Write and Rewrite: Teaching Students How to Be Better Writers and Editors
Professor Patricia García, a lecturer in the Department of English at UT Austin, whose teaching experience ranges from middle school to university classrooms, is no stranger to the difficulty of helping students develop writing and analytic skills. Although she has spent many years in the classroom, she is still looking for new ways to help students improve their writing. In her Latinx Short Story course, García engages students in dialogue, both with herself and with their peers, to help them develop these skills. This model for developing students’ writing skills through ongoing feedback reflects the importance of high-quality instructor feedback in Writing Flag courses. Courses with the Writing Flag are “structured around the principle that good writing requires rewriting and that careful reading and analysis of the writing of others is a valuable part of the learning process.”
A key aspect of Garcia’s teaching philosophy is that meaningful feedback should go beyond simply pointing out flaws in students’ writing mechanics or grammar. Instead, she uses feedback on their writing to help the student reflect on ways to improve their writing and arguments over the semester. By understanding how to give and receive feedback, students improve their writing during the semester and gain lifelong tools to continue to hone it as they write in other contexts. Although students come to Garcia’s course with varying levels of writing experience and skill, she has seen that “they become better writers by giving feedback to other students.” She believes that learning to give feedback is part of becoming a better writer and helps students improve their writing throughout their lives.
Garcia helps the students become comfortable giving feedback to one another by putting them in online discussion groups and asking them to write discussion posts in the class Canvas forum. She uses students’ discussions online and in class to help them reflect on the course readings and become comfortable engaging in dialogue with their peers. Given the variety of students in the class, the discussion posts have helped to engage every student in discussions on the readings, with students who may not be as familiar with the Latinx writing learning from those who are more familiar.
The online discussions are continued in class, where García guides the conversation. In class discussions, García models close reading methods for the students to engage with the passages on a deeper level. She breaks the students into smaller discussion groups and has them use close reading methods to discuss a particular passage. The students have to use quotations from the text to support the arguments they make in their groups. Practicing these skills together in class helps the students understand how to provide textual evidence to support their arguments in written work, and it helps them learn how to analyze other arguments they hear outside of class.
Throughout the semester, the students work in groups to workshop their peers’ papers. At the beginning of the semester, Garcia gives the students a rubric for editing their peers’ writing and shows them how to give each other meaningful feedback. Before class, the students review papers from their peers, then in their small groups they discuss with their classmates their feedback. This conversation and dialogue on their papers goes beyond proofreading. Garcia wants the students to help each other develop stronger arguments, support them, and connect the texts they analyze with larger themes.
Peer feedback is an important element of the course. However, this feedback is meant to supplement, not replace meaningful feedback from Garcia. She gives students feedback on each of their writing assignments in order to guide their development during the semester. She gives the most extensive feedback on students’ first drafts to help them understand her expectations. Sometimes, when giving this feedback, instead of typing out all her comments, she records it. UT’s grading platform, Canvas, allows her to attach audio feedback to each of the papers. Garcia began giving them audio feedback as a way to encourage conversation with students on their writings. Beginning the conversation with her feedback helps students feel more comfortable in engaging in the conversation with her, or with their peers.
By showing students how to engage dialogue and give and receive feedback, both with their instructor and with peers, Garcia gives students lifelong tools to hone their writing in their future careers. She challenges students to reflect on and apply feedback by engaging them in conversation and dialogue on their writing. Garcia’s interactive process of giving feedback and engaging in the feedback process gives students a model for improving their writing beyond her classroom.
By Abby Attia, Graduate Assistant at the Center for Skills and Experience Flags