Mary Daniels, professor of Spanish, creates meaningful learning opportunities for students in a fun and engaging environment where they can process their writing. Making the writing process fun is seldom an easy task, yet through the use of a discussion protocol she learned at the ACS Teaching and Learning Workshop, Daniels is able to offer students an alternate method of working through common writing issues while learning applicable skills. Students are exposed to and offered opportunities to solve problems through the practice of active listening, constructive feedback, and analyzing both their own and others’ writing.
Many college students encounter problems when they begin writing papers. Not knowing how to turn a draft into a final paper or where to find reputable sources can often deter students from writing or finishing a paper. Some procrastinate writing until a draft is all they can muster for a final assignment, or they believe their first draft is so good it needs no editing. Regardless of the severity of these writing struggles, receiving feedback is a necessary component to moving forward. In many cases, this feedback stems from the instructor and students attempt desperately to fulfill their instructor’s requirements rather than improving for the sake of improving. Daniels breaks out of the traditional method of feedback, encouraging students to practice a new set of skills to process their work.
For students in Mary Daniel’s Spanish classes, the encouragement they need to overcome these hurdles often comes from participating in a discussion protocol with their peers. The process allows students the opportunity to share a draft of their paper with their peers, receiving feedback and suggestions from others struggling with similar challenges.
In groups of four, her students take turns talking about their particular struggle or challenge, while the rest of the group practices active listening skills and providing constructive feedback to their peers. This academic discourse with one another is a pivotal tool in the learning process, allowing space for both conversation and active listening to achieve learning goals and grow as a student.
Daniels says, “The students get energized – thinking, writing, listening; which is great because it can often be scary to do that next step in writing.” Having a support team to help you through the process is very beneficial and creates a sense of camaraderie.
When asked why she started implementing this protocol, Daniels talked about the student perception that to be actively participating they need to be talking, specifically, talking to the instructor. This method of communication allows students to escape from the pressures of performance by conferencing with each other and receiving feedback from their peers rather than just the instructor. Incorporating both active listening and intentional feedback provides students with a balanced perspective of not only their own writing, but also of their peers. Understanding the ways in which writing styles can change and develop with multiple iterations is a valuable lesson for students.
Her goals for students in her classes are to develop deep listening skills and to be able to articulate complex nuanced literary analysis. While these skills directly apply to the aspects of writing in her own courses, Daniels knows these invaluable life skills extend far beyond the classroom, helping creating future leaders in our community.
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