I was quite intrigued with the reading by Nancy Sommers. As an English major, I have read more than my fair share of papers. Everyone thinks "English major" also means "Designated essay reader." Unfortunately, I do not have the same belief. Nevertheless, I have read history papers, communications and rhetoric papers, and others. Never once did I consider the quality of my comments on the paper. When Sommers discussed the way that common teacher editing puts grammatical errors, punctuation errors, and content errors on the same wavelength; they are all equal in the writer's eyes. I never considered what my comments on papers might be doing to the writer. I know that I am equally a victim when it comes to essay commentary. Whenever I see someone has revised my paper by saying that something does not make sense, along with a missed comma, I view both of those mistakes as equal on the playing field. Sommers's article made me realize how wrong this was.
I have to admit that after reading Sommers's opinion, I was slightly skeptical about not commenting on student errors; however, when I read chapter four in Tompkins's text, I came to a better understanding of the process of revising and editing student work. Near the end of the chapter, Tompkins says that "focusing on error correction doesn't ensure that students become capable writers" (Tompkins, 2012, p. 104). This led me to think about all of the times a teacher corrected my paper by adding in a semicolon instead of a comma or a period. I never understood how to use a semicolon. In high school, I would sometimes throw one into a sentence, just to see if I would get a comment from my teacher about its "wrongness." It actually was not until I took a grammar class here at Nazareth that I learned the real purpose of a semicolon. I think that sometimes teachers can get carried away with looking over a student's work, and not realize how much they are asking for.
I am reminded of my second student teaching placement at Hope Hall. I was in a second and third grade classroom that consisted of seven students who were all emergent writers. My cooperating teacher took the term "emergent writers" far too seriously. She engaged the students in a frequent amount of picture drawing and coloring, over writing because she said that what they wrote was impossible to understand. It nearly killed me. Most of the student assessments that I observed with her involved making sure that students colored in the lines or could draw a picture of healthy snacks; not once did she assess my students through writing. I was so interested in her fear of allowing the students to write. When it came my time to take over most subjects in the class, I jumped directly into writing. During a unit on character development and citizenship, I had the students keep booklets that included their personal descriptions of character traits such as respect and responsibility. I asked the students to write what they thought. I did not ask for a specific number of words or sentences, for fear that they would be nervous about completing the assignment. As they wrote, I circled the room and verbally asked students what they were writing about. I took brief notes about the process each student used because to me, that was more important than the perfection qualities in their writing. Walking around the room allowed me to guide students with spelling, but a majority of their work was completed individually. My teacher was quite surprised, upon the completion of their booklets, that each student had created an acceptable number of coherent sentences and phrases that involved each character trait. As I consider the ways that I tied in assessment to the unit, I also think of the ways that Sommers's opinion of teacher comments on work would have been helpful to me. Most of my comments appeared as praise. "Good!" and "I like your example!" were far too common. Although these writing pieces were not intended to be revised, edited, and published, I understand that I could have done a lot more with their writing than simply give it a grade and send it home.
While I did learn a lesson about taking risks with my students, I also recognized the importance of allowing students to just write. Too often, students are set up for failure because of a teacher's assumption that they won't "live up" to the expectations of the assignment. I tried something, and it worked.