Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

The argument against editing students’ drafts of written work

Posted 22 Jul 2017 / 0

The Chronicle of Higher Education Why I Don’t Edit Their Rough Drafts

Over the past year, I have been entering a new phase of my teaching career. My home institution, Pratt Institute, has been undergoing a massive transformation of its general education curriculum. This transformation has triggered a variety of different modifications in who I teach and what I teach, but one of the biggest changes is the potential to include writing in my courses.

I have almost always asked my students to write. Despite being part of the “quantitative” and “technical” part of my students’ general educations (by virtue of being a member of the Math & Science Department), I have always gravitated towards the larger goal of making our students better readers and writers. This, I hope, should not come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog. What has changed is that now I have the chance to teach writing intensive courses that fulfill a new general education requirement faced by all art and design students. And that writing intensive designation changes everything.

Being able to require my students to do a significant amount of writing has allowed me to really think about what sort of writing I want my students to do and how that writing will be produced. Over the past academic year, I experimented with a semester-long Term Project that required students to write both a Proposal for a creative work and a Summary that places the completed creative work in context. For both of these written works, I asked students to write multiple drafts. And for both of these written works, I edited their drafts. And boy, did that take up a lot of my time.

So Rob Jenkins‘ Chronicle of Higher Education piece entitled “Why I Don’t Edit Their Rough Drafts” is singing a pretty appealing tune to me. Although the amount of writing that I require is nothing like what Jenkins requires, I am also suffering from some mathematical problems when it comes to reviewing all these drafts. Part of this mathematical problem emerges from the fact that my responsibilities in writing intensive courses extend well beyond writing: there are a lot of in-class activities, reading responses, and other student works that I need to assess during the semester. A big problem with making science courses writing intensive is that most of the requirements of being writing intensive have nothing to do with the things we normally do in a science course.

But the most compelling aspect of Jenkins’ argument revolves around the question of who represents the audience for my students’ writing. He’s totally right: when all students do is bounce their writing back and forth between me and them, the only audience that they are writing for is me. And not surprisingly — especially in a science course at an art and design school — I am not the most inspiring audience. As Jenkins suggests, what I really want is my students to write for a different audience, and conveniently that audience is their peers: when my students infuse science into their Proposals and explain the science in their work via their Summary, I want them to write for an audience that’s approximately “themselves”. Perhaps I hope that someday their writing would well-aimed at professionals in their fields, but at this point in their career development, their own peers are the right audience.

So it is clear to me that I need to include some sort of draft workshopping in my courses next semester. Jenkins’ great essay is just the last kick in the pants that I needed to remove myself from the unnecessary hell of reviewing dozens of student drafts. Conversations with Bethany Ides facilitated by Pratt’s Writing Across the Curriculum initiative had already gotten me thinking about how to workshop student writing in class. And my experience as a member of a Faculty Learning Community at Pratt has made me think a lot more about how my students iterate their work… and my role in those iterations.

For me, the hardest part about taking the advice that Jenkins provides is that I will have to give up something in order to workshop student writing in class. What’s an entirely normal part of a writing course represents an imposition on a science course that’s already designed to use in-class activities to build the scientific literacy of my students. So I have to figure out how to do the delicate curricular dance involved in removing in-class activities at a time that’s right for the drafting process but also right for the rest of my curriculum.

A Minor Post, General Education, Higher Education, Pratt Institute, Student Writing, Teaching

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