Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Your Comments As Collaborators and Their Payoff

I can't tell you how pleased I am with everyone's performance over the past couple of weeks. As I've read the papers on which I've been added as a collaborator, I've been very impressed with the thought each of you have given to each others writing. I've been even more impressed on how the drafts have been improved as a result.

It's time I let you in on the learning which is taking place in the background. I've borrowed from my response to a particular student in this explanation:

As you help others create more successful documents, you're having to create either a conscious or unconscious dialogue with yourself about what constitutes good or better writing. You're having to compare this concept to that which is in front of you, and you're having to make specific recommendations and judgements, so your ideas can't just be abstract. In the profession, we call such an internal dialogue about writing "a metadiscourse."

Achieving a working metadiscourse means your cognitive understanding of your own literacy has taken a major step forward. You've practiced this metadiscourse and over the next few years, you'll probably--if your cognitive trajectory as a writer follows most others--make the metadiscourse more conscious and detailed. Getting this kind of metadiscourse started is one of the things which I build into my freshmen course designs, so it just happens as a necessary incidental.

Moreover, you've now got access to a host of terms and rubrics for making your metadiscourse richer and more nuanced; and, as you've written on them for your outcomes inventory, you've had to learn them at least well enough to write on them and to see examples in your own writing.

My point is this, much of the learning from this course will mature and flower over the next few years, and you might not even notice it happening. The truth is, there's only so much which can be done to help students become better writers in five weeks. In fact, five week sections of freshman writing violate understood best practice in the field. I took these limitations as challenges and focused on planting the seeds which can, if you cultivate them, make you a better writer over time.

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