Friday, July 2, 2010

Notes on Teaching: Revision--avoiding the Spaghettio's approach


I can't believe how quick these past 6 weeks have come and gone. Tomorrow is the last day of the Summer 1, ENG100 course I've been teaching at UH Manoa. Back in May, at the beginning, I was pumped up with adrenaline--a rush that has slowly tapped out. Like my students, this week I have made lackadaisical attempts at being lively. Their "finals" are due tomorrow--and we've spent the last 1/6 of the course talking about revision.

It's easy to talk about revision in a poetry workshop. I can photocopy Elizabeth Bishop's process--15 drafts of the beautiful villanelle "One Art" and say to a student now do you think you're "done"? However, "Composition" is different.  I don't know why it is, and I don't really believe it is, but we writers have been trained to think that poetry writing and prose writing engage in completely different processes. We are taught that there is a three step process for writing academic papers: 1.) Write a draft (there is no time in college to write a formal outline, so here is what I wrote at 2 AM after I just chugged a can of recalled Spaghetti-o's with my Bud Light); 2.) Bring the draft to class for a "peer review" (i.e. watch a few of my peers take nearly the entire class to read my paper, then mark the paper with a smile-y face to indicate that I did real good); and 3.) "Revise" my paper (according to my teacher's comments, and nothing above and beyond that, of course). Well, I see a few problems with the Spaghettio's approach (maybe you do too?)....

Revision doesn't begin when the writing ends. It doesn't start after the paper has been handed back, graded by the teacher. Revision is recursive--it happens as we write. It even happens after we write--in our minds, while we cook dinner or walk the dogs. It's hard to deny that when we compose on the computer we are constantly revising. To me, that process is more like editing, not revision. Revision, literally means "to see again." And this is what I ask from my students for their "final"--a completely new paper. Sometimes you need a break to re-see your writing, but once you do, you may realize that you were taking the wrong path in the first place.

So the revision process is a lot like feeding yourself (or others). When you're tired and lazy, looking for a quick meal, it's easy to reach for the can-opener. But the quality won't be there. So take a break. Take your time. THINK about what you've written. Instead of Spaghettio's, why not pappardelle?   

I plan on posting all of what I call in-class "revision exercises" in the next week, after I'm done grading my students' portfolios. But for now, here is the REVERSE ABSTRACT exercise. The idea is that before students begin their "revisions" they do the following exercise with a partner. By writing abstracts for their own papers, they set new goals for themselves. By letting others write abstracts for their papers, they can receive outside feedback that points out exactly how those news goals can be reached. The students seemed to benefit from the feedback this exercise generated. Cheers!

Instructor: Jaimie Gusman
ENG100 Summer I
Abstract/Paper Revision Peer Review
1.)   Take about 20 min. and write the abstract for what you imagine your revised paper to be like. Remember that an abstract uses present tense and active voice. It should be about 1 page, handwritten. Use keywords, state your thesis, identify what kind of paper you’ve written, briefly summarize, and mention your research methodology (sources).
2.)   Switch papers and abstracts with your neighbor. Read your neighbor’s paper completely, marking places where organization, grammar, source material, citations, etc. might be a problem. Also, identify what type of paper is this (analytical, personal narrative, research, short-story, etc.). What makes it this type of paper? As of now, does the content fit the form?
3.)   Now write an abstract for your neighbor's paper, using the same parameters you used when writing your own abstract.
4.)   Now read the abstract written by the author of the paper, and answer the following questions on a new sheet of paper:
·       What is the paper’s thesis statement/intention? Is the thesis strong or weak and WHY?
·       Now find the thesis in the paper. What is it? Does the thesis in the abstract match the thesis in the paper? If they do not match, explain why.
·       Identify the types of sources or examples the abstract promises that the paper uses. What are these sources and examples?
·       Now find sources and examples in the paper. What are they? Are they in line with the thesis of the paper [meaning, do they support the author’s claim(s)]? Which ones are strong? Why? Which ones are weak? Why?
·       Does the abstract promise a narrative? If so, what is it? Does that narrative materialize in the actual paper?
·       What else does the abstract promise that isn’t clear in the paper? Is this missing material important for the success of the paper? Why or why not?
·       Who is the audience for this paper, according to the abstract? Is that true, now that you have read the paper?
5.)   Now compare the abstract you wrote for this paper with the abstract written by the author of the paper:
·       Do the thesis statements match? Which abstract’s thesis is stronger and why?
·       Do the methodologies match? Are there places resource materials are missing?
·       How might the abstract you wrote for this paper be more or less in line with what the paper is actually about compared to the abstract the author wrote? As an outsider, do you feel like your take on the paper is representative of the author’s intentions?
·       What might the author change about his or her goals for the paper (since that’s what an abstract is in a sense—a goal sheet)? Be specific!

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