Addressing Surface-Feature Errors_ Strategies for Faculty and Students - DE Oracle


DE Oracle @ UMUC An Online Learning Magazine for UMUC Faculty Center for Support of Instruction Addressing Surface-Feature Errors: Strategies for Faculty and Students David Ramsey Assistant Professor, English UMUC Asian Division Published: January-February 2009 Category: » Online-pedagogy » Teaching-strategies (Note: This article is the second of a two-part series; the first, Application of Psychology Concepts to the Teaching of Writing Across Disciplines: Reinforcement and Shaping, appeared in the DE Oracle in November-December 2008.) Beginning with Assumptions The primary assumption underlying this article is that regard for "surface-feature matters" (elements of a composition which either help or hinder the conveyance of content) is relevant for writing in every course, for every discipline. To paraphrase one of my mentors in graduate school, Dr. Edward White, a writer can have absolutely ingenious thoughts, but if these thoughts are not conveyed to a reader clearly via surface-feature matters, the objective of the composition will not be realized. Thus, employing several strategies regarding surface-feature matters, as determined through the field of composition and rhetoric and my own teaching of these matters, will likely be quite useful. These strategies are: 1) envisioning surface-feature errors as "patterns of error" (POE's) rather than as discrete and separate entities; 2) presenting a lecture which addresses common patterns of error in the instructor’s discipline/course; 3) providing written feedback on students' compositions that helps them recognize and edit their personal POE's; and 4) encouraging students to employ surface-feature information/knowledge in specific ways. Perceptions of Surface-Feature Errors Historically, determining the frequency of particular types of surface-feature errors in students' writing is nothing new; for example, in their article, "Frequency of Formal Errors," Robert Connors and Andrea Lunsford discuss a large-scale research endeavor conducted in 1938–39. However, there is evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, of instructors—regardless of discipline—assessing surface-feature matters as discrete entities, perhaps deducting a point for every comma splice and/or refusing to continue assessing a composition after a certain number of errors. Therefore, it is important, both for the instructor and his or her students, to envision surface-feature errors in relation to their patterns. For example, eight instances of the lack of a comma after introductory phrases are not eight separate errors; rather, they are eight manifestations of a student not understanding that a comma follows an introductory phrase. To be clear, such errors are likely occurring because the student correctly understands the need to compose complex sentence structures in the academic environment to reflect complex thought; however, the student does not have the accompanying grammatical knowledge for these complex sentence structures. In this way, the student exists in an intermediate stage of producing appropriate academic discourse (Bartholomae, 1980). As students understand their patterns of error and the grammatical knowledge regarding these structures, they can begin to edit their own compositions. Once instructors understand the relevance and usefulness of the POE strategy, it is important to convey this knowledge to their students. Because UMUC primarily serves non-traditional, older students, they Addressing Surface-Feature Errors: Strategies for Faculty and Students - DE Oracle may very well have not heard of this concept. However, in my experience, UMUC students overwhelmingly receive the POE concept in positive ways, as it makes sense to them. Instruction Concerning Surface-Feature Errors After offering the POE idea to students, the next element is preparing a lecture that focuses on discipline- or course-specific patterns; as Margo Coleman offers in her article, "Application of Psychology Concepts to the Teaching of Writing Across Disciplines: Reinforcement and Shaping," an instructor's expectations—and, thus, patterns to be focused upon in such a lecture—may vary between levels and types of courses. For example, I inform my students that the following five POE's comprise roughly 80-85% of the surface-feature errors I find in UMUC undergraduate courses: 1) lack of commas after introductory phrases, 2) lack of commas for inserted clauses, 3) commas for coordinating conjunctions, 4) proper semicolon use, and 5) qualifying generalizations/evidence for assertions. Therefore, I offer a lecture focusing on these patterns in all of my college-level English courses during the beginning weeks. For each of the patterns, I offer a "layperson" definition and several examples; I then ask the students to derive an example or, ideally, to consider a previously written sample of their writing for such structures/errors. I also refer students to other resources, such as The Little, Brown Handbook, the current handbook for WRTG 101, and UMUC's online writing center. Feedback to Students Regarding Surface-Feature Errors The final element in helping students reduce their surface-feature errors is to provide written feedback on their compositions. As the hardest part for any writer is to transfer lectures and other acontextual knowledge to their own compositions, I edit, in their entirety, the first pages of my students' essays; I then start to determine, on a separate piece of paper, POE's occurring in the compositions, and I offer this information as the final element of my "terminal comments" (the global assessments occurring at the end of the papers). Such feedback is intended to serve two purposes: allow students to see particular errors within the contexts of their own writing and allow them the knowledge and opportunity to edit their own compositions. Clearly, if I were to correct all of my students' POE's for them, they would have little, if any, incentive to determine these errors themselves. Coleman's assertions are again useful here, in reference to the benefits of allowing students numerous opportunities, in the form of multiple compositions, to apply the "shaping" information provided by the instructor. Student Implementation of Knowledge When I offer the lecture concerning POE's to my students, I recommend that they go over their documents several times, each time focusing on one of these pervasive patterns of error; after students review the feedback on their first paper in the aforementioned ways, they are then advised to focus on concerns more specific to their writing. As I explain to my students, two things will likely happen if they attempt to edit their documents once, addressing multiple POE's: 1), they will likely feel overwhelmed by considering numerous types of errors, and 2) they will end up overlooking or not recognizing many of the errors that they otherwise determine. Consequently, I advise the students to consider the entirety of their compositions several times, focusing on one pattern each time. While such a method requires more time, it is decidedly more productive in relation to editing one’s composition. Moreover, I remind my students that surface-feature matters are worth 40% of the overall assessment, so such time is definitely well-spent. In Sum The ability to produce effective texts via surface-feature matters is necessary for all writers, regardless of discipline; faculty members are doing their students a disservice if they do not assist them in this regard. The strategies I have detailed in this article are designed to address such matters throughout a Addressing Surface-Feature Errors: Strategies for Faculty and Students - DE Oracle Contact Site Manager Created and Maintained by the Center for Support of Instruction © University of Maryland University College Powered by ArticleMS from course, in ways that are productive and not overly time-consuming for either the instructor or his or her students. References Bartholomae, D. (1980). The study of error. College Composition and Communication, 31 (3), 253-269. Retrieved December 10, 2008, from JSTR database. Coleman, M. (2008). Application of psychology concepts to the teaching of writing across disciplines: Reinforcement and shaping. DE Oracle. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from /online-pedagogy/teaching-strategies/application-of-psychology-concepts.html Connors, R., & Lunsford, A. (1988). Frequency of formal errors in current college writing, or ma and pa kettle do research. College Composition and Communication, 39 (4), 395-409. Retrieved December 12, 2008, from JSTR database. About the Author(s) David Ramsey is at the final stage of acquiring his PhD in English from Miami University of Ohio and will defend his dissertation--a discourse analysis determining the levels and types of interaction occurring in UMUC's undergraduate distance education courses--in January 2009. He received both his BA (in English literature) and MA (in English composition) from California State University, San Bernardino. Since 2003, David has taught various undergraduate English courses for UMUC's Asian Division, in both on-site and distance-education formats. He previously taught for several other institutions, including aboard a U.S. Navy ship (an LHD) for Central Texas College. Rating: Not yet rated Comments No comments posted. You must be logged in and be a member of the UMUC community in order to comment. If you are a member of the UMUC community and do not have an account, please register for a FREE one. If you have a guest account but are Faculty/Staff of UMUC please send an email to the DE Oracle Site Manager ( Update my DE Oracle Guest Account) so that your guest account can be updated. Addressing Surface-Feature Errors: Strategies for Faculty and Students - DE Oracl

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