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Monday, February 1, 2010

Is it odd to ask students to revise someone else's writing?

Today was one of those days where my students seemed confused but I wasn't quite sure why. This time, it wasn't confusion about content (which by now, I can usually figure out); it was confusion about an assignment. In my writing class, the students had to write short data summary reports, the first drafts of which were due today. I paired them up with a classmate ('co-author') and in class, they were to read their teammate's paper, following some guidelines designed to help them assess the writing (e.g., 'can you generate a one-sentence summary of the report?', 'circle any terms that a non-economist might need defined', etc.) and discuss how to improve each report. Then for Wednesday, they must each independently revise both papers, that is, their own and that of their partner (each student wrote on a slightly different topic, though all were related to employment in some way). In class on Wednesday, they will then compare the two versions of each paper, ultimately deciding which version they want to submit for the team.

I am honestly not sure what it was that was so confusing to the students. I think they were OK with the idea of revising their own paper, but it was the request to revise their teammate's paper that was hard for them to grasp. Some thought that they were supposed to collaborate to produce one version of each paper for the team, which I can understand, but even once I explained that they should each write their own version, and they would be comparing and discussing the two versions on Wednesday, they seemed confused. Is it simply that they have never been asked to do something like this before?

This is the first time I'm trying this and maybe it just won't work. One of the reasons I am having them revise someone else's paper is that I think, in general, it is easier to recognize problems with a piece of writing than to fix those problems. While recognizing the problems is a good first step (and students generally find it easier to recognize good or bad writing when it is someone else's), I believe that it is the process of struggling to fix those problems that will really help these students improve their own writing. I could be wrong about that, and maybe the benefit of this exercise won't be worth the confusion. Wednesday should be interesting...

1 comment:

  1. I like the revision assignment very much, but I can certainly imagine that for many students it was an unfamiliar task. I would guess it was unfamiliar, because, as you suspected, they hadn't done it before, but also because most people still envision writing as a solitary activity. One might look at someone else's work and provide feedback, but to actually revise someone else's writing and work collaboratively to re-write an entire paper seems to run counter to what most of us believe about writing: that it is work we do alone. This leads to another great misconception about writing: that some are born with the ability to write well while others suffer from inherent writing disability.

    There may also be some hesitation due to questions of academic honesty or plagiarism, reflecting increasing concerns and confusion about intellectual property.

    Kudos on having students focus their attention on the process of writing. I hope they see the value of collaborative writing later on.

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