Last week we had our first taste of warm weather, stirring up all those spring feelings: the hope that we may have shoveled snow off our car for the last time, the anticipation of shedding our winter coats & commuting during daylight, the excitement & anxieties we share with our students over the springtime rituals of AP testing, and the bittersweet acknowledgement that we will be letting our seniors go to pursue their various academic and career paths. Each year around this time, I look at my senior composition students, reflect on how tremendously they have grown in their writing and how delightful they are as young adults and wonder have I done enough to get them ready for the next step?
In the Dual Credit and English 101 courses, the question at the forefront of our planning is how to blend challenge and support so that our students can have as seamless a transition into their college coursework as possible. The new partnership with Eastern Illinois University has been instrumental in providing us with the insight we need to continue to do this better. On February 23, we were delighted to host Dr. Timothy Taylor, Director of Composition at EIU to speak with College Composition, Speech 101, and English 100 classes.
Dr. Taylor’s Presentation
Dr. Taylor began his presentation by defining growth mindset for our students. By sharing highlights from Carol Dwek’s research and using student responses to model examples of growth mindset, Dr. Taylor presented the following keys to success in reading and writing for college:
(1) Students must have a growth mindset. They must believe they can and will improve their writing through practice and study.
(2) Students must work hard -- they must seek to improve their skills.
(3) Students must practice discipline -- completing writing assignments on time and with quality.
(4) And finally, students have to care. When students care about improving their work, they will take feedback, apply it and see improvements.
Growth mindset is a concept that is familiar to many of our students. We discuss it in our classes, model it when we show them how to use feedback, and use language that supports growth and improvement. Dr. Taylor engaged students in a real-time critique session of an essay from a student in the on-campus section of College Composition. As students commented on the model, they identified some of the errors they are making in their own papers. Students were able to identify weaknesses in thesis, organization, and analysis in the model essay that correspond to the weaknesses they are seeing in their own essays. As Dr. Taylor then presented elements of the revised paper, students were able to see growth mindset at work - what was once an average essay (students graded the original a C) became an A essay with a complex thesis, well-argued points, and strong analysis of supporting details.
Implications for our Work
Dr. Taylor’s presentation echoed the messaging we pass on to our students as a course team. Writing is a complex set of skills that requires practice, attention, and revision. We strive to give them clear and timely feedback that focuses on the big picture - how well they are articulating and supporting complex ideas in writing, rather than on the specific - particular constructions for paragraphing or rules of grammar. Above all, we strive to make grades a benchmark for improvement, not an assessment of a student’s worth as a writer. Through our portfolios and student reflection processes, the team is working to improve students’ metacognition and integrate growth mindset in their writing.