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Dialogic mentoring through grading

A mentor develops relationships through dialogs with student writers. Sometimes the dialog takes place through comments on papers or grading sheets, but these comments have to be fashioned with the main goal in mind: a helpful human connection. Here are points to remember:

  • Make your first comment a "person to person comment." Put it at the top of the grading sheet. If you don't connect, the student will probably not look at the circled errors or other comments. You're making a bid for a conversation. If you start comments out with a bland, "Nice job!" readers don't have any reason to think you read the paper carefully or that you have anything worth listening to. When you're grading, you're in charge. When students get their papers back (if they pick them up), they're in charge. You need to acknowledge their power by addressing their initiative: "You used this essay to investigate a new explanation for the Cambrian explosion. Being able to recognize the critical features of a new theory like this one will help you keep up with this rapidly changing field."
  • Be selective in what you comment on. Students turn off overwhelming criticism or feedback. Do not “nitpick” or emphasize grammar, punctuation, and style. If you would like to comment on these things, pick one or two errors to highlight which, when addressed, would most dramatically improve the student’s writing.
  • Make a difference with your help. Link your written advice to those aspects that would change the paper's quality. Don't correct a comma when the value of the whole sentence is in doubt. Work on the organization, the clarity of the thesis, and the forecasting sentence in each paragraph before making notes about other aspects.
  • Use your time for comments that describe rather than label. Many English teachers maintain their power through negative labels: "awkward," "trite," or "vague." You wouldn't say that to the student directly in a conversation, and it won't help the student write better, so rephrase to describe what you're seeing: "The sentence has three major claims in it, but I can't tell how you want me to see their relationship." "If only I had a specific example from the article, I would be able to understand your reasoning better." "This phrase is so general that it doesn't make your point precisely."


Helping students read scientific articles well

In many courses, students must write a summary or critique of a published research article. Younger students often struggle to read journal articles and will seek your help as a more experienced reader and writer.

Before they read the article, tell them to make a short list of questions, issues, or concerns that caused them to seek the article in the first place. Those questions will function like "mental hooks" to snag connections as they read.

While they're reading the article, suggest that they

  • Make notes (see page 8 for a note-taking template)
  • Highlight key passages
  • Draw lines between the highlighted parts and write a phrase that shows in their own words how these passages are connected
  • Look for evidence that a concept explained in class was applied to a new population or situation
  • Look for evidence that contradicts something that was said in class
  • Figure out relationships among key concepts

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Becoming a professional scholar. OpenStax CNX. Aug 03, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10871/1.2
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