By Amy Erickson
In the October 2016 issue of Online Classroom, Dr. John Orlando makes an interesting distinction between grading and teaching. In his article “Have You Turned Yourself into a Writing Tutor?” Dr. Orlando (2016) suggests that many professors focus on correcting grammar at the expense of teaching content (para. 10). Although Orlando makes some valuable points here, as an English instructor, I disagree with some of his recommendations.
Put the Red Pen Away
Dr. Orlando (2016) believes it’s best for students when grammar instruction is left to writing center professionals so that professors can focus on course content. After all, if a student is taking an environmental science class, it’s more important for them to hear feedback about their understanding of deforestation or sustainable development than to hear corrections surrounding parallelism or verb conjugation. Dr. Orlando (2016) argues that instructors should share their expertise to ensure students comprehend course concepts and try to hold back the red pen when it comes to grammatical errors. Feedback should be geared to help them achieve course objectives.
While it’s true that one’s time is best spent teaching material in line with one’s expertise, I think instructors can simultaneously give feedback in terms of grammar and writing. Some instructors may prefer to give feedback on writing because content-related feedback can be time consuming. Thoroughly discussing concepts requires more writing in the margin than guidance on paragraph structure.
This is where voice feedback and feedback banks can serve you and your students well. See Dr. Orlando’s Mentor Commons on-demand video “How Can I Use Voice Feedback to Improve Student Learning?” and Dr. Mendernach’s on-demand video “How Can I Use Technology to Create Custom, Automated Feedback?” for wonderful tips to help you strengthen your feedback. These videos can help you provide thoughtful feedback on course-specific content as well as on writing.
Y R U Having Writing Issues?
So, why do instructors feel compelled to critique writing skills? Dr. Orlando (2016) states that “some faculty members claim they need to focus on student writing because student writing is so bad” (para. 8). Dr. Orlando (2016) goes on to say that just “because a student has a problem does not automatically make it the faculty member’s job to fix it” (para. 8). I disagree; too many educators have neglected grammar and writing if students are still exhibiting issues in this area in college.
We owe it to our students to let them know if their writing needs work. We don’t need to do it at the expense of content-related feedback, but we can share strategies to help students improve their writing skills when writing about course content. Students aren’t better off if they can comprehend course material but cannot write about it.
All Hands on Deck
When a student’s writing is poor, help make it better! Instructors at Excelsior College shouldn’t become editors for their students, but we can at least guide students to valuable resources like Grammarly and Smarthinking. We can also let students know that ignoring these resources will cost them in terms of their grade. In my experience, such consequences can encourage students to consistently follow basic rules of grammar. It may be tiresome to mark up every error in a paper, but it’s easy to recommend these valuable academic resources.
The Bottom Line
People will judge your students and make assumptions about their capabilities after seeing their writing. If poor writing isn’t addressed and penalized, they have no incentive to use the writing center or other helpful resources. It’s not okay to throw up our hands and say it’s not our job. Instructors shouldn’t focus on grammar at the expense of their own content, but poor writing or incorrect grammar should not be ignored. We all have a responsibility to help improve the way our students communicate.
Dr. Orlando (2016) asks, “When was the last time a student thanked you for marking up a paper with writing issues?” (para. 6). That’s easy—the last time I proofread a student’s cover letter.
Orlando, J. (2016, October). Have you turned yourself into a writing tutor? Online Classroom. Retrieved October 1, 2016, from http://www.magnapubs.com/newsletter/online-classroom/152/Have-You-Turned-Yourself-into-a-Writing-Tutor-14225-1.html