Your post should be titled “Why you should never publish anything on the Internet (or anywhere for that matter)”. The minute you publish something you open yourself up for attack, not just feedback.
I have no problem with your critique of Chris’s assignment as Chris is a professional putting his work out there for you to critique. I don’t agree with most of your comments, but I do feel the assignment wasn’t as clear as it could have been.
However, the lack of a rubric being posted with this assignment with clear standards makes critiquing the students writing as you do unfair. Look at your post again and code every time you put down students directly or indirectly. Clearly while you may not have wished to put down students, that is exactly what you are doing.
I believe the overarching purpose of posting these essays was to solicit feedback on the students’ ideas and not the written form those ideas took. When you look at student work and give feedback it is different than looking at the work of adult professionals and you must confine your feedback about students and their work to the scope of the assignment’s parameters (no matter your opinion of those parameters).
Your post reminds me of the quote:
“The turtle only makes progress when he sticks his neck out”
- James Bryant, educator
To conclude, if turtles took your advice on producing first drafts they would make zeroth progress because the feedback they would receive would discourage their further effort.
Downesian nemesis TracyW provides a good rebuttal to Joe's "open yourself up to attack" and "the value of feedback" arguments which all censor advocates should read. I'll move on to the remainder of Joe's argument.
As a preliminary matter I note that Joe offers no defense to the students' writings and the deficiencies I noted. Is there a valid defense? I don't think there is one, but I'm happy to entertain that argument should some brave soul desire to make it.
Also, what is the point of this:
I don’t agree with most of your comments, but I do feel the assignment wasn’t as clear as it could have been.
Allow me to offer a similar rebuttal: I disagree with Joe's comments. And, now we've entered the surreal realm of a Monty Python skit.
What is the point of offering an opinion without substantiating it. This is exactly what the SLA students did. So, I'm guessing that when Joe says the assignment wasn't clear his implicit premise is that the assignment was so vague that it was acceptable for the students to just offer up a series of unsubstantiated opinions. Joe then moves the goalposts again when he next argues that since the "overarching purpose" of the assignment was to solicit feedback, the written form of the students' work should not be judged.
This is the Tom Hoffman diminished expectations counter-argument. Here is Joe's argument made explicit.
Joe, like Tom before him, is claiming that Chris' assignment was "vague," and that the words Chris used in his instruction meant something other than their ordinary and customary meaning as I claimed. The actual assignment should be understood to be commensurate with the scope of the resulting work product of the students. The students didn't support their opinions; therefore, the assignment did not require them to provide such support. The students' work was riddled with grammatical and usage errors and did not conform to the standard essay format; therefore, Chris' rubric could not have been concerned with this aspect of the students' work. Moreover, my standard is an adult professional standard, not a high school grade standard.
Let's recast Chris' assignment to make it both crystal clear and in accordance with Joe's suggested rubric.
You are to write a two page opinion paper creating your vision of what school should be. The main purpose of the paper is to solicit feedback from your fellow students. You are not required to provide support and substantiation for your opinions, even though this will hinder the reader's ability to understand the basis of your opinion (to understand why you think the way you do) and will diminish the quality of the feedback. Following the standard essay format of introduction, body, and conclusion is also optional. In fact, presenting your opinion in a logical order is not required, nor do you have to separate your ideas into traditional paragraph format. Also, although the goal of the assignment is to solicit feedback, it is not important for you to communicate your opinions coherently to the reader at all so they are readily understood. Therefore, standard grammar, usage, and spelling rules need not be adhered to. Lastly, you may keep your papers real by peppering then with colloquialisms and other informalities typically associated with spoken language.
Your paper should consider the following points:
According to Joe, this was really Chris' assignment and the students' papers should be critiqued accordingly. As a result, the students' papers are in compliance with the assignment and my critique is off-base.
It should also be clear why Chris chose to use the term "position paper" instead of all this clarified verbiage.
Nevermind that the term "position paper" is not only not vague, but also has an established meaning, And that the interpretative rule of Contra proferentem (against the one bringing forth ) dictates that we should use this established meaning.
Let me also suggest that this is an argument that progressive educators are better off not making in a public forum if they wish to achieve any credibility with the public.
The credit is entirely J.S. Mills.
You certainly have the right to critique or as you say "attack" Chris's work and SLA. However, I draw the line at hurting students which is what your post is doing.
Let me suggest to you that there is a difference between telling students that they can't write (because they don't have the skill to express themselves or possess deep enough knowledge to share) and telling students that their writing needs improvement. Your post discourages rather than encourages students to express themselves by focusing on what their writing is not.
"The sedentary cynic speaks much and often. For hope's heroes, action is their eloquence & sweat their song as they pass the pessimist on the path of progress." --Cory Booker
But Joe, Ken explicitly hasn't attacked the students. To quote his original comment on this post:
This is not an indictment of the kids or their abilities. Clearly, these kids want to learn. They have stuck it out this long, overcoming whatever adversity was in their way. No, it's an indictment of their schooling, only a part of which SLA is responsible for.
As for your quote, can you please name some of these heroes who have done great works by ignoring all negative feedback? How do you explain the successes of modern science with its system of peer review (ie finding flaws in other people's work)? How about the way in which engineering companies with a concern for quality hire specialised test engineers? How about the rigorous criticism that's part of a classical music or ballet education?
Joe, I am critiquing the teaching, not the students, But, since the best way to determine the quality of the teaching is to look at the work of the students, I had to comment on that work. In any event, I am merely pointing out what their teachers should have done long ago. I don't see the benefit of hiding this information from them. The college bound ones will certainly find out about this problem soon.
Let me suggest to you that there is a difference between telling students that they can't write (because they don't have the skill to express themselves or possess deep enough knowledge to share) and telling students that their writing needs improvement.
Right. I am doing the latter. Moreover, these students are expressing themselves, they just aren't doing it well. They need instruction and feedback and they are apparently not getting it.
Your post discourages rather than encourages students to express themselves by focusing on what their writing is not.
I consider myself fortunate that
my teachers gave me constructive feedback when my writing was in need of improvement, rather than to hold back that feedback for fear of hurting my precious little feelings or for ear that I might be too frightened to express myself going forward.
Your concluding quote is about cynics/pessimists, not critics. And about optimists, not students that haven't been taught well. So I don't see how it is relevant to this debate.
Joe Bires says,
"However, the lack of a rubric being posted with this assignment with clear standards makes critiquing the students writing as you do unfair."
I don't get it. These essays were posted on the internet, were they not? Anyone can look at them. Nobody hacked into anyone's private files. What's "rubric" got to do with it. Is Ken under contract to do something about these essays? Did he fail to meet the obligations of the contract? Did he have to sign something in order to get access to these essays?
If anyone has an interest in critiquing the writing ability of these student, that's their business. If anyone has an interest in critiquing the writing ability that I show on my web site, have at it. If Ken thinks these essays show poor writing ability, that is his opinion, and he is free to express it. If someone thinks the articles on my website show poor writing ability, that is also an opinion that anyone is free to express.
I happen to think the writing ability of high school seniors is a topic of some importance, and worthy of discussion. I don't know if I agree with Ken or not. I have spent some time with these essays, and plan to spend some more time.
I find essays there that I think demonstrate something considerably less than what we would like to think of as good high school writing ability. I found myself imagining wielding a red pen on these essays. On some of the essays I get a picture of almost as much red ink on the page as black. But I also find essays there that seem free of errors, and I don't imagine any red ink. At least some of the students, it seems, are quite capable of stringing together words into coherent sentences and paragraphs. That may not be the totality of good writing, but it is an important start.
But when I turn to a consideration of the ideas being presented, I get a little bleaker picture. Have these kids been reading? Have they learned and thought about what others have said about their subject of interest? I don't seem to find much evidence of that. I don't see much evidence of substantial reading, but I do seem to see lots of evidence of cliches that must have been presented in class. It does make me wonder if they are getting much of substance in that class.
And it is a total mystery to me why high school kids are taking a class in educational theory.
Joe, the essays (excuse me, first drafts) were posted on the internet for public comment. If you want to give students just the right amount of feedback, the teacher should give it. The teacher should know where the student began, what specific skill has been taught and is being tested, and can comment on the progress of that specific skill. The public will rightly comment on the entire essay, as will their college writing instructors next year.
Why are the first drafts published on the internet in the first place? I mean, even in the elementary school writer's workshops, "publishing" is the final step. You don't publish first drafts. It would be like leaving the house in your underwear. You want to present your best self (or your best writing) to the world.
I grade the papers of college freshman, which is what these students will be next year. These papers are way below the standard that college freshman papers should be. It's not fair to send the students to college without sufficient writing skills. It's not fair to make these students waste time on and pay for remedial writing classes, because their school was so committed to an educational philosophy that they neglected to teach important skills. It's not fair to the college writing instructors who have to dumb down the classes, and it's not fair to the prepared students of their classes, who don't learn the skills of college freshman English while their less prepared peers flounder around them.
Joe, the ideas behind the essay are inseparable from the writing used to express the ideas. Sloppy writing is sloppy thinking (as one of my college writing instructors taught me). Often when I need clarify my thinking on a topic, I write up an essay. Spelling out your ideas on paper, in logical paragraphs, with good arguments supporting your points, improves the quality of your ideas.
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