Proofreading Report Fall 2014 Well, I know everybody has been waiting breathlessly, ha ha, for this semester's proofreading report, and you can see it below. Just like every semester, the main takeaway is that there is a whole range of skills here, from people who proofread easily as well as I do and perhaps better than I do (proofreading is an odd skill that requires a remarkable degree of both focus and detachment) to those students who really are not able to proofread very well at all, even though they might be confident and enthusiastic writers. Proofreading is just one of the many skills that are part of a writer's repertoire after all, and, based on what I have learned about each student so far, I can attest that some of the folks who struggle with proofreading are very good writers, better writers in a sense than some of the people who have mastered the arcana of the English comma. Of course, as a general rule the people with good writing mechanics are usually good writers, but the students I am most likely to really help this semester are the good writers (i.e. confident, enthusiastic, creative, ambitious writers) who, for whatever reasons, never learned some of the basic rules of written English. As a teacher, of course, I have to be ready to work with every single one of these students, all along this spectrum. 

Sadly, very few college faculty work with their students on writing mechanics and proofreading, which means the students get very little feedback and reinforcement for any of the skills I am trying to foster in this class. There are many reasons why most faculty don't work on the nitty-gritty of writing with their students: perhaps they don't have time and/or they might be scornful of students who don't already have these skills and/or they could be applying these skills unconsciously but without the ability to articulate them consciously. In some cases, the faculty might not even have the skills themselves to begin with — believe me, after working for several years in the editorial office of a prestigious academic journal, I've seen it all! 

Anyway, administering this assessment each semester takes a considerable amount of my time, probably about 15-20 hours (I've never timed it) to mark and return the assignments. Yet I consider that time incredibly well spent for all kinds of reasons. Here are just a few:

* It gives me a lot of insight into the students' writing in general. Because the assignment is open-ended in nature, every semester I see new results — new corrections that the students devise, and also new mistakes that they introduce into the text). When the assignment ceases to be a learning experience for me, I will come up with something different, but clearly I still have lots to learn about the kinds of errors students are prone to make.

* It lets the students know that I really will be working with them on the formal aspects of their writing. The class may be a total free-for-all in terms of creative subject matter, but it will not be a free-for-all in terms of punctuation and spelling. For many students, this is the first time they have ever received word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence feedback on a piece of writing. They also learn to get used to the way in which I return comments in plain text, with my comments inserted and marked with ==>

* It prepares the students for problem writing areas that they will need to be working on soon. So, when they start doing some writing for their class projects in Week 4, I ask them to look back at this assignment in order to start defining their own proofreading and revision strategies. So, I don't worry too much if students only glance at this feedback now; they will be revisiting it again later.

* It demonstrates for the students who do have problems with their writing that they are not going to penalized for that deficit. I feel badly that these students are going to have to put more time into their writing revisions than the other students, but they also stand to gain more from the class for just that reason. In any case, this is not about red ink, not about grading — it's about learning. Everyone gets the same number of points for this assignment, and they declare those points for themselves when they turn it in. I return feedback only; I do not grade.

* It introduces the students to the kinds of stories that they will be reading in these classes, and it also introduces them to the idea of making choices, which is a fundamental part of the class design overall. From my perspective, it is so cool to see how all the stories get chosen every semester. When I first created this assignment, I figured I would be discarding one or even two of the stories because no students picked them, but instead all the stories have their fans! The Cherokee story gets picked the most by far, with the Greek myth and the Aesop's fable as close seconds, but there are plenty of students who choose the Buddhist story or Nasreddin or Brer Rabbit... and the comments the students make about the stories they chose is another great learning experience for me, very enjoyable.

Here is the assignment:
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