Giselle’s post

Addison and McGee in Addison, “Writing in High School/Writing in College. Research Trends and Future Directions” remind us that high stake testing is driving k-12 instruction.  (152)  This obviously translates to writing assignments of shorter length since standardized testing is limited in scope.  In particular, they point to the research of Applebee and Langer that “conclude that students are simply not writing enough to prepare them for the demands of postsecondary education.  For college faculty, this means that students are coming to higher education without the muscle for longer writing assignments.  (It is hard not to note the irony here, as just last week our class was discussing the value of teaching using the shortest text message.) 

    As a high school teacher, I feel compelled to address this situation.  Students cannot graduate high school unless they pass five major subject regent exams.  Naturally, the English regents is heavily writing based.  According to my estimation, a student would not want to allot more than an hour and fifteen minutes to the larger of the two essays that students have to write.  This is what we must drill for our students, as this is what the school, faculty, and students are judged on.   NSSE’s, or the National Survey of Student Engagement’s benchmarks include “high-order writing”. (On a different note, teachers are evaluated on the Danielson rubric which includes higher-order questioning techniques.)    NSSE defines this as “assignments involving summarization, analysis, and argument.”  (153)   Part 2 of the Common Core English Regents is an argument, which does require all three of these skills.  Part 3, a text-analysis response, while not including the argument, does demand the ability to summarize, analyze and persuade.  Furthermore, as you can guess, the common core learning standards, for grades 9-12, call for students writing arguments (w1a-e) and informative/explanatory texts (w2a-f) and narratives (w3a-f).  In short, my point is that even though students are not writing longer works in high school, they are engaging in higher order thinking, reading and writing.   

   Another thing that I found telling (and believable) about this text is that there is a discrepancy between what high school students and faculty report as to what writing of drafts and conferencing was done: “. . . while 30% of high school faculty report “always” requiring multiple drafts,         only 16% of high school student report “always” writing multiple drafts.  And while 31% of high school faculty report “always” conferencing with students on papers in progress, only 12% of high school students report “always” discussing their writing with their teacher. . .  (159)

    Why is there this difference between what high school teachers and students perceive?   This article does not attempt to explain this.  Still, I would like to try based on my experience as an educator.  As teachers plan lessons, they are consciously aware of pre-writing activities, drafts and subsequent conferencing in written and oral feedback form.  Students, on the other hand, may not be cognizant of the overall scaffolding of instruction.  This may be partially due to their newness to the writing process, their youth and even, absenteeism. 

   Closely related to the difference in the way students and faculty perceive what happens in the class’s writing process are the statistics showing the disagreement about students’ writing abilities in both high school and college.  Table 4 shows how high school students are rated by the faculty and themselves. (160)   A  5 equals very satisfied, while a 1 equals very dissatisfied.  2.73 was the mean college faculty rating for juniors/ seniors for the ability to analyze data/ideas/arguments.   Interestingly enough, these same students’ mean college rating for themselves was 4.19.  Again, why the difference in perception?  Perhaps students need to see models of exemplary writing.  Specifically, a variety of levels of writing samples should be evaluated, in conjunction with assignment rubrics.  This facilitates clear expectations and good instructor practices, as reflective of NSSE’s benchmarks. (153) 

   According to this article, the success of freshman and sophomore high school teachers is partially due to the fact that more informal writings, like reflections and journals, are assigned. (164)  By these writing activities, students are made aware of their own identities, as well as, their writing process.  Table 2 shows that 34% of high school faculty reported that students were always provided the opportunity to reflect and evaluate their own writing, while only 23% of college faculty reported that they always did so. (158)  I understand this as part of the scaffolding process of writing from public school to the higher education of colleges and universities.  As students graduate to the next level, they must become more capable of writing

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6 Responses to Giselle’s post

  1. Kristi says:

    Hey Giselle,

    I’m glad you posted about the high school classroom, especially the standardized tests that students have to pass. Reading over the core curriculum, it seems that if students are meeting these writing goals by their senior year, they should be having no issues in freshman composition. As we have talked about throughout the entire semester, it feels like a lot of the time we are starting from scratch with teaching them how to build an argument. And, I wonder, if a lot of this discrepancy comes from the tests. While the common core is supposed to make it so that all students are receiving the same education, they aren’t taking the same state tests, which means they aren’t going to be taught how to pass the test in the same way. In my personal experience, the year I had to take the English state test, I didn’t learn how to think, or to argue, or to write. I learned how to do the work that was required to pass the test. I wasn’t allowed a space to truly expand on my writing and thinking until I started taking AP classes the following year.

    I also am glad you mention the difference between what the teachers and the students were perceiving. I feel like that is extremely applicable even now for comp classes. To us, the work we are requiring seems obvious, but they don’t always get it. It seems to start at the beginning of the semester through explaining how important comp is for their college career, and what it means for their paths if they do well in it. Even though it becomes tedious to explain why I’m making them write the draft multiple times, why they’re having these in-class exercises, why we are reading this article, why we are discussing it, why it’s important they practice analysis, why it’s important the do all these different things, I wonder if my students would have been more responsive during the first peer workshop. And I wonder, as educators, what can we do to open that line of communication with students in order for us to be on the same level of understanding?

    On a side note, reading the WPA and Queens pamphlets were extremely helpful, and I wonder if it would be beneficial to show the students these standards/expectations from the beginning.

  2. Nick Earhart says:

    Given the more theoretical discussions we’ve had about orienting students to college-level writing, I appreciate the data-driven analysis in the Addison and McGee article. Still, I had problems with the terms and categories the researchers used to gather their information, specifically the concept of “deep learning.” That seems an extremely subjective quality that may very well resist the parameters of these studies. Even as the breakdowns of student vs. teacher perspectives offer insights into what’s being communicated in the classroom, I wonder how much the questions themselves—the structure of the survey—affect these outcomes. Perhaps if there are enough participants in these studies, the information balances out—some consensus about the meaning of deep learning and the scaffolding of instruction Giselle mentions can be achieved. The data may seem tangible, but I suspect if it is to be useful, we must also examine the biases that give rise to the results. After all, the disparity between student and teacher perceptions can only begin to suggest the broad systemic discrepancies (among teachers, among students, etc.) about the nature and goals of a writing curriculum.

    I’m interested in Giselle and Kristi’s discussion about standardized testing, and its role in the gap between high school and college writing instruction. How “standardized” are these tests, considered across state and regional borders, and to what extent do these tests standardize what goes on in the classroom? Giselle’s points about the Regents exams were thought-provoking, especially in light of teaching students who have taken them. I had some difficulty interpreting the Addison and McGee because it was so technical and quantitative, so it was helpful to think about the results in terms of a specific educational context. I’m curious to discuss more ways of managing the abundance of data, and incorporating the results into an experiential consideration of pedagogy.

  3. Sarah says:

    Responding primarily to Kristi and Giselle —

    I am also glad that you, Giselle, have returned to a fact you’ve previously brought up in discussion: that teaching high school in New York is necessarily geared toward the Regent’s Exam. If I, as a teacher, or my institution were evaluated based on this, then I imagine I would also teach in this direction. However, I think, and it seems that Giselle you do too, that this creates troubling habits in student writers. In thinking about these things, I am reminded of a discussion I had with an old friend, a writer, poet and academic, who matriculated and now teaches in the French university system. In Europe, the essay, from a young age is taught as thesis-antithesis-synthesis. It is a discursive rather than a persuasive format. While I think the European systems have their own set of issues (uniformity is a major one!), it’s hard for me not to see parallels between the persuasive, point by point American essay and a culture of capitalism, individualism, and teaching toward a correct answer or performance on a standardized test. I note this because it seems to be something that we all have articulated struggling with in our classes–getting students to complicate their ideas rather than prove a singular point.

    A second response, to Kristi’s musing at the end of her post, is yes, I think it could be. Transparency seems to be a recurring theme for us in Practicum. I think, even if it’s not the particular handbook, a clearer sense of the purpose of each assignment could help. Again, we operate within a culture based on use-value, and given the selfishness and arrogance of adolescence (I’m being self-honest here–I was totally arrogant and self-interested as an adolescent!), it would make sense to explain why students have to do a particular thing. I certainly think that I am going to treat my syllabus in the coming semester as a guidebook more than a list of requirements AND treat it as their first reading for class by having them respond to it and identify key themes.

  4. Sophie says:

    I’m really interested in this discussion of transparency that’s come up. When I was teaching high school, Teach For America (far more so than my actual school) impressed upon me the need to be explicit at every step of the way. When my mentors came in to observe my classroom, they would often ask students what we were doing, and why we were doing it. I eventually adopted as teaching “tics” to explicitly signal when we were moving on to a new activity, how that activity connected to our goal for the day (SWBAT!), and how it connected to broader unit/academic/life goals.

    I find it interesting that, thinking on my teaching practice now, I’m not nearly as explicit. I think I’m definitely more explicit in writing workshops, in the context of the essay itself, i.e. “You need to know how to construct a ‘so what’ because without it the whole essay falls apart” or “You need a topic sentence so that your paragraph remains focused.” But I don’t signal how the peer review process, for example, is helpful to the general writing process, or why I teach in small groups as much as I do, or any of the other things I used to be very open about with my high school students. In my TFA debriefs, we often discussed how this openness on the teacher’s part was essential to the students eventually gaining academic autonomy. That lack of student autonomy, of concrete problem-solving skills, was, and continues to be, one of my greatest frustrations in the classroom.

    And I think that lack of problem-solving ties back to the standardized testing culture (see, this post ties together a bunch of different points people have brought up, I swear!). On a standardized test, when you have a limited amount of time to accomplish a task, you push through that task in order to get something, anything, down on paper. Thinking back to my own standardized testing experience, even as recently as two years ago when I took the GRE, you don’t have time to engage in any critical thinking at all; whatever your first idea is is what you run with. I think a lot of students have brought that mentality into their college classrooms. They try to push through the tasks, and just be done with them, but don’t really engage with the writing. Once the task is done, they consider it complete, which is part of why the editing and peer review process is so laborious. Even if they recognize that a particular piece of writing is not their best work, they have so little academic autonomy that they have a difficult time pinpointing exactly where they went wrong.

    I suppose my resolution, after writing all this, is to bring back a spirit of openness to my pedagogy. To be explicit about every task I assign my students, and why I assigned it to them, and how it connects to broader unit/academic/life goals. Perhaps, like with my high school students, it will provide them with some modicum of critical thinking, and make the editing process slightly less tedious.

  5. adouglass says:

    I wanted to address the point Giselle makes regarding differing student/teacher perceptions when she says that students may not have much of an awareness of the scaffolding that is happening in the classroom. This has been a major barrier for me, even as I have tried to be as open (transparency again) about it as possible. The syllabus I’m working with is extremely scaffolded to the point that each of the formal writing assignments could be perceived as a support for one segment of the final research paper. Since the first day, I’ve tried to be explicit about how this is working, and during this final phase of research, I’ve tried to make very clear to them how each of the supporting assignments they have to turn in between now and the final paper is helping to build their end product so that they do not have to sit down and write a 10-page piece of research for the first time, all at once. However, I can tell that my students have not developed a frame of mind that allows them to see the way the work is building. Rather, many of them seem think of each task in isolation as it comes, and so do not always feel the relevance of the task when they are performing it or give it the kind of contextual consideration that would help them do well. I realize this is getting a bit far afield, but what I’m wondering is whether or not this actually is pretty directly tied to our question of being transparent about the goals of the course. For this and several other reasons, I’ve been thinking throughout the semester that I wish I had taken more time in the first week to really lay out all my expectations and for the class to come together on some common understandings of the work we undertake together, so I think that’s going to be one of the goals of my syllabus revisions.

  6. Responding primarily to Kristi and Giselle —

    I am also glad that you, Giselle, have returned to a fact you’ve previously brought up in discussion: that teaching high school in New York is necessarily geared toward the Regent’s Exam.

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