I’m currently marking some undergraduate close readings of picture books and emergent reader texts. With another hat on I’m editing a collection of short stories by a single author. The author has had short stories published by us and others before. The undergraduates are also reasonably competent writers; they most likely have A-levels in English language or English literature and some of them will also be creative writers with some experience of writing.
Writing to a brief
Both types of writer have a brief. They both need to think about what their reader needs. Both have to convey something with clarity. But maybe the writer who is being published needs to get everything right. The student only needs to meet the requirements of the module. However the latter is assessed in eight areas so it’s still quite demanding. I’m on edit two of the writer’s work and this means annotating the text with a lot of questions. This particular writer has a recurring mistake and I have to pick it up every time. After I’ve met something similar in a student’s text about half a dozen times. I’ll point out that I’m not going to highlight it any more.
The mechanics of working on the texts
It’s a very similar action in fact. In both cases I’m using software that allows me to click and highlight the text and then make a comment. There’s a similar density of annotation as well. In my writer’s text – of 112 pages, some 30,000 words - I’ve made 305 comments so far. One each student text – 1,500 words - I’m making about 30 comments. Don’t forget: I’m on Edit 2 out of three on my writer’s text.
Summative and formative comments
There is a mixture of these in both cases. The annotations on the student text are largely formative i.e. they are made to help the student learn. These can include comments on grammar mistakes, correcting misquotations, urging them not to overwrite, use run-on sentence or clichés but also they can be used to show what is working well. Then we must pinpoint how well they have done in each of the eight areas of assessment. I personally follow this by summarising the main achievement of their assignment but also offering two or three tips on what they could do next time.
There are similarities in the work we do with writers. We run through three stages of editing. The first is really an overall assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the text so is a little like our summative comments. We then ask the writer to go away and spend some time mulling over what we’ve said and come back some week later with a polished text.
Edit 2 is like the formative comments we make on the student’s text.
Edit 3 we simply correct what’s not been picked up yet. And sometimes on student texts I simply correct.
Enjoying the process
In once told a colleague I actually enjoyed marking. He looked at me quizzically then his face lit up. “Of course you do. You get to read stories all day.” Well yes, but I’m so used to stories that they are nearly always predictable. Oh yes. Even those written by the best writers. But I do enjoy seeing a text shape up or a student begin to write better.
Crucial are those comments at the end of Edit 1 for our writers and at the end of the summative report for our students.
Is this effective?
Do they take any notice? I think so. I even found this when I taught Modern Languages in an 11- 16 comprehensive school. We had to give a summative report and then three action points for the student to work on. I was amazed when one year I pulled up the comments I’d made the year before for one class I was still teaching. They were a middle set so not perhaps the most motivated. They had all reacted to the three suggestions I’d made and had improved in those areas.
My creative writing students certainly do. I hope my writers will too.