Sponsoring Critical Reading and Response

We’re going to do two things today. I’ve carved out some space for us to talk about the end of the semester and what we need to do to get there; then I’d like us to talk about this piece you read!

First, the handout I’m giving you right now (also in Google Docs form) is my best sense of the assignments and activities that make up this class. Doing them all at “contract level,” as I’ve indicated in the syllabus, earns a B. Doing more than that? Well . . .

Do the work and you earn a B. To earn more than a B (B+, A-, A), revise all your work extensively–beyond just meeting the requirements.  To do this, come to my office more than once to meet with me about revisions and share new or significantly revised drafts with me.  In other words, any grade higher than a B is based on the quality of your revisions and persistence in revision work.  If the final drafts of your writing are really strong, you get an A.

When I made this promise at the beginning of the semester, I’d understand if you didn’t believe me! I’d imagine some of you are still wary, given that few of your other classes are set up this way. But the good news is I’m holding to it.

So the first thing I’d like you to do is to fill out the sheet. I won’t collect this–it’s for you–so you can feel free to write yourself whatever you want (notes of reminder or encouragement, for example) and stick it on your fridge to remind yourself of what you need to do. But pay particular attention to the final questions! They ask you to plan out how to make sure all your work is in on time and, if you want, revised.

Take about ten minutes right now and write up how you’re doing in here. Starting in a few weeks, and over a few different days, I’ll ask you to think about something I think is entirely separate: what you’re learning. Today we do the former so that later on we can fully attend to the latter.

And how about this article? Is it the real tea? The magic? It doesn’t solve all the problems but I think it helps in significant ways. It calls back to Nancy Sommers’s Revision strategies of experienced and new writers in that it shows what students are prepared to talk about in a piece of writing–and what they may not be. For me it also calls back to Postsecondary Reading: What WC Tutors Need to Know in that it points to asking students about their reading strategies as one big way in.

First let’s talk about what you commonplaced out of this article, so that we can assess at the outset what we reacted to.

Then let’s work to practice the strategies themselves! First please open your Either/Or paper or one of your more recent observation reports. Then pair up with a partner! (I know the author says she’s talking about peer groups, not tutorials, but working in groups bigger than two might prove time-consuming.) Practice AT LEAST ONE of the following steps with your partner:

  1. SAYBACK. What is your whole paper about? Tell or write your partner. The first step is to ask students to verbalize detailed summaries, or what Elbow and Belanoff call “sayback” (22-24), which moves students toward consideration of writing as an extensive utterance, rather than a patching of details they can pounce on. A variation on this technique is moving through the paper and relating what each paragraph “says”-a portion of Bruffee’s “descriptive outline” (40-43). [ . . .] The presence of a tutor for this practice is important to model the activity of writing the response, to join in as a responder, and, if necessary, to urge the students to write and then share their responses. In writing, students have time and space to articulate their responses individually before they use them as a springboard for group discussion.
  • FREEWRITE your sense of the paper as a MEAL or THE WEATHER and share with your partner. Here, students are asked to draw pictures of the writing, give images of the “writer-to-reader relationship,” and compare the piece of writing to animals, persons, or weather. It invites playfulness and is initially seen by students as foolish and corny, yet it produces serious and often striking results. [ . . .] It can also move students toward consideration of rhetorical factors, such as the writer’s attitude toward the topic and  task, of audience and purpose. Writing and sharing of such feedback anchors the discussion it further generates, justifies comments and suggestions, and provides distance from both the author and the text.
  • SWITCH LAPTOPS with your partner and offer a “movie of your mind” for this paper. One of the most powerful and extensive ways to record the readers’ reactions is through “movies of the reader’s mind” (Elbow and Belanoff 30-35). In this feedback readers are asked to record their reactions (“what’s going on in their heads”) as they go through the text. It makes them see writing as “doing” something to them, realize their expectations, predictions, identify their stance toward the text, locate areas that cause given reactions (like confusion), as well as substantiate a general sense of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the text.

Then we’ll share out our sense of how these “worked,” how it worked to sponsor or promote more and better talk about revising. And what do you imagine you could accomplish in asking students to work with each other’s writing in this way?

Finally, this quote seems to me like the heart of it:

In a group, however, the role of the tutor should evolve from that of the most experienced responder and model to initiator and facilitator of student response and finally to moderator and equal participant in collaborative negotiation. In terms of instructional responsibility, unlike in an individual tutorial, the tutor in a group needs first to help the students become more effective readers, then responders, and eventually step away from the instructional role and become a participating audience member on similar terms with the other students, or perhaps even a mere observer. This gradation of functions implies that, progressively, the tutor needs to let the students become more independent as they learn about writing and the range of revision strategies, as they become better readers of each other’s drafts, and as they learn effective response.

Respond to it, please. Practical/impractical? Unforeseen challenges to making this “gradual release of responsibility” happen in a writing group?


Hey! I'm a professor of Rhetoric and Writing in the English dept. at Chico State. Also disc golf player, indie music listener, and vanilla Marxist.

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