Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 2: Assessment

Writing assessment involves deep judgment that requires complex thinking and diverse experience. But informed as writing assessment may be, it is human judgment, replete with the assessor's inclinations and biases.
To ensure that my evaluation is as objective as possible in a subjective discipline, I adhere to these principles:
  • Evaluate writing from both formative and summative perspectives. Formative evaluation calls for me to evaluate writers from where they are; summative evaluation calls for me to evaluate the quality of the writing.
  • Evaluate for a standard and consistent skill set. I assess based on four general areas--purposefulness, completeness, organization, and style--each of which encompasses a range of subordinate skills.
  • Use a sensible rubric for assessing writing. A scale of 1 to 10 is not helpful because I know of no one who uses the entire scale. The letter grade system is for the academic world. I use a qualitative assessment that gives the writer a clear signal: strong, needs improvement, etc.  
  • Assess writing over a number of assignments. Let's say writers do poorly on a proposal. Assigning an analytical report or instructional message that the same writers complete successfully may suggest that they are otherwise good writers who are just learning how to write a proposal.
  • Determine what to teach based on the writing assessment. I readily break from my game plan if the writing quality shows that I should. For instance, is the next topic is organization and the writing is showing tone problems, then tone moves into the agenda.
  • Make the assessment positive. Realizing that people build on their weaknesses by using their strengths, I show writers those strengths as building blocks toward improvement.
  • Suggest behaviors that can improve the writer. People learn to write better by writing more, but they also need to read more. I suggest books, articles, and websites to help them improve.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 1: Motivation

People noticing my education level and publication record may say that writing is easier for me than it is for them.

Not true. Writing remains a challenge for me whether I'm working on a book, a course, or an email. Writing is not easy. Sure, some people write better than others, but writing at work is a skill that can be learned. It is a necessary ability for employment and promotion. It is a primary responsibility of most corporate employees, whether they are writing procedures, policies, reports, analyses, or proposals. 

For those reasons and more, I teach writing. In the coming 11 posts, I will explore some writing principles I live by to keep me committed, engaged, and informed as a teacher.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Conditional Mood: Speculative vs. Predictive

In a grammar class, I'm likely to ask, "Why are the following three sentences correct?":
  1. If I knew you needed me, I would have helped.
  2. If I were you, I would apply for the job.
  3. If you have a question, I will answer it.
Notice the if-would combinations for sentences 1 and 2 but the if-will combination for sentence 3.

Most people in my class know the three sentences are grammatically correct but cannot explain why. The usual answer I get is, "Sentence 1 is in the past, sentence 2 is in the present, and sentence 3 is in the future, so we need will for the future." But these sentences have less to do with time, or tense, than they have to do with our state of mind, or mood. Here are the facts:
  1. Sentence 1 cannot be in the past because it never happened (I did not know you needed me).
  2. Sentence 2 is not in the present because it cannot be (I cannot be you).
  3. Sentence 3 is a condition likely to happen in my mind (I will answer your question).
Sentences 1 and 2 have conditions that cannot be met, so we use the speculative if-would combination. The condition in sentence 3 is likely to happen, so we use the predictive if-will combination.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Great Ideas a Must Bookmark

The Great Ideas, led by American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler, and their companion The Great Books, offer a solid overview of the major concepts from biology, education, ethics, law, literature, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, politics, psychology, science, and theology. The reading list you'll find there covers the classics of Western literature which have shaped how we learned and what we think. It's an invaluable resource that will keep you occupied for years to come.