Student survey – Competition Writing – Focus #2

Standards: 1.2; 1.3; 1.5; 2.6; 4.5; 5.1

I surveyed the members of my co-curricular group, Competition Writing, and also my leaders.

Eleven students responded to the survey.  A summary of responses is linked here.

My survey of the group’s leaders: Zachary Sunter (Captain), William Lim (co-captain) and Eeshan Dhingran (co-captain). Two of the three leaders responded to the leadership survey.  A summary of responses is linked here.

Students enjoyed interaction and discussion just as much, or even more, than formal learning about writing technique. This year I asked the leaders to ensure that students spent at least part of each session writing and not just listening to presentations. This was one of my goals as there was a poor balance between interactive and passive activities in the previous years. I have been pleased with the amount of active participation this year although students are usually happier to write than to take part in discussion.

The leaders were very well liked this year and with good reason.  The leaders themselves also enjoyed their roles. I think the language they used in their responses (‘egalitarian’, ‘cooperation’ and ‘interpersonal skills’) indicates they understand that leadership is about service and collaboration. The leaders worked hard to generate enthusiasm for writing within the group. Most challenging for them was juggling their time between academic and leadership commitments, as well as engaging the group and organising interactive activities. I was pleased that leaders found leading the sessions less intimidating than they had expected – I was aware of the shyness of the captain and one of the co-captains, and put my trust in them as young men who would nevertheless demonstrate important leadership qualities. They did not disappoint.

Interaction within the Facebook group continues to be problematic, and the leaders’ survey responses conveyed an awareness of this also.  As I am regularly reading other educators’ observations about the encouragement of deep conversation online, I am aware that this is one of the hardest things, and requires in-context explicit teaching and practice. Some people mistakenly think that this generation is digitally savvy but fail to realise that their digital behaviour does not include interaction on a deeper level. The same goes for reading others’ blog posts (shared in the Facebook group) and commenting. It’s difficult to break out of the traditional one-way direction of writing for your teacher. Students have been constantly encouraged to read posts shared by their colleagues and leave some feedback. This actually occurred rarely, especially the feedback (again, traditionally the domain of the teacher), and usually only by the leaders.  There is a lot to be said about the value of blogging – when successful – in the way that it encourages collaborative reading and constructive feedback which require students to learn how to reflect and evaluate other’s writing, and therefore gets them to think about what constitutes good or poor writing. This is one of the reasons why I try so hard to convince English teachers to use blogging for all student writing – if only to have the class read each others’ work and learn how to evaluate it. The latter is much more valuable than just submitting work to the teacher and receiving feedback from one teacher which is a passive activity.

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