Week Thirteen: Grading’s Never Easy

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Happy weekend to you, editing teacher!

During our weekly chat a few weeks back, Dr. Leverenz was telling how her grading was going on our students’ second projects. It was weekend two of grading for her and given the time and attention it takes to grade editing accurately, it seemed that a third weekend of grading was inevitable.

For many professors, weekends spent grading are to be expected. But what should you expect when your grading takes three weekends? What’s more disconcerting than surrendering your well-earned free time after a long week, during which you probably worked overtime anyway, to more overtime on the weekend, for several weekends in a row? An exhausting crash on Monday comes, just when you need to be refreshed and at your best.

This approach to work is not sustainable, and yet teaching editing necessarily invites it. Editing as a practice requires careful, focused attention to detail, many details. It requires multiple “passes” or readings for error. It’s an intensive effort on the part of the editor, and the reader who receives the edited piece may never be able to appreciate all the work that goes into the piece’s preparation, nor may a critic of a missed error be able to appreciate all the other changes made in the editing process. The work is invisible.

The work of grading of the editing, I’d argue, is equally invisible. The marks are on the page, the queries answered or occasional justifications made, but the time and effort that goes into grading something that required just as much time and effort means we’re giving multiple passes to a piece. We’re doing the same work as our students, plus thinking about grading, and this makes for a lot of work.

That’s not to say that grading composition papers or pieces of that sort doesn’t require intensive effort, but consider once again the attention to detail required of editors and how every error comes with greater consequences, an open invitation to criticism that a more low-stakes, freshman or sophomore composition paper may not. Because editing students work hard to learn the in’s and out’s of grammar and punctuation, it’s reasonable to expect that the one’s grading them work just as hard.

Or is it? We do, after all, have more students in an editing class than teachers. My point in all this pedagogical searching is to understand why this workload is so daunting and how we might alleviate some of it without sacrificing the quality of grading we do.

Cheryl Ball, professor at Illinois State University and editor of the online journal Kairos, said plainly, “Editing is the class that trumps all my rules for easy grading.” That comment was made in reply to a Facebook post Dr. Leverenz made on this topic. Dr. Ball quickly followed up with the only solution she could offer: “Although I did turn back a whole pile of reports to my editing students once, if I found more than four errors on the front page.”

Some editing teachers might appreciate that solution; others may have a hard time with setting the bar at four errors, arguing that it should be lower or higher. Regardless, it’s a strategy to consider. A few other possible strategies follow:

Partner up: Contact a graduate student interested in teaching an editing course or simply learning more about editing. That’s how I came to Dr. Leverenz this semester. Even though I never took a class on editing (not counting internships for credit), my past experiences in editing and writing for newspapers made the opportunity appealing to me and I was able to receive course credit for studying both Dr. Leverenz’s pedagogical methods and assisting with her teaching, i.e. grading exercises and quizzes when possible.

Save answer keys: Whether you’ve taught an editing class once or ten times, saving some of the manuscripts you grade as exercises and projects can alleviate the grading load in future semesters. Of course, these manuscripts should be replaced if they become outdated, circulated within a campus community, or prove to be not challenging enough for your students. Even so, having taught and graded the same manuscript before makes you a bit more familiar with it, and therefore, the load a little lighter.

Read first: Do you have students that consistently turn out good work? Consider reading their submissions first. Reading lets you get a better sense of the errors that even the best students will miss. Knowing the benefit of reading fist means you’ll have a better sense of what to expect from the whole class. It also means that you won’t be so harsh on that improperly linked URL because no one else in the class caught that note on the style sheet, so perhaps it needed to be highlighted in class.

Create a feedback list: As you grade, pay attention to what most students are missing. I keep a running list and then use that list as good material for discussion. In hindsight, I wish I had kept each list for each graded exercise so that we could have more closely tracked what was giving students a hard time and what improved by addressing it in class. Still, the list has helped us target specific, frequent errors and fix them. If students miss number consistency in exercise one, for example, then it should be addressed to ensure that it doesn’t continue to crop up in exercise two. Following up on the most pressing feedback points helps not only the student, but the teacher, too: fewer repeated errors to grade.

I’m sure there’s much, much more in the way of strategies. These are the ones I have relied on or learned from Dr. Leverenz. My hope is that it helps someone who stumbles across it. More selfishly, I also hope it helps me identify other strategies I can discuss in my final reflection letter on the class and makes grading editing just a little easier in the future.

 

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Week Twelve: The New Readers

“I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone. You “bounced” in Web traffic jargon, meaning you spent no time “engaging” with this page at all.” https://editingforall.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/screen-shot-2014-04-02-at-11-20-01-am.png

Engaging readers by challenging their disengagement, the writer who wrote that hook, Farhad Manjoo, wrote “You won’t finish this article,” a feature in Slate last summer, in which he takes on the issue of web reading. Some of his most interesting claims, for our purposes, include the following:

  • Most readers who tweet out a link will do so before they read the entire article.
  • Readers don’t like to see double spaces after periods.
  • Readers don’t like to scroll. Scroll depth is usually less than halfway down the first page of an article.
  • “Most visitors read about 60%” of article content.
  • “Most visitors see all content on video and photo [galleries].”

Nota bene: all of this information was based on research reported by data scientist for Chartbeat Josh Schwartz.

Manjoo mixes two parts of frustration and disappointment with three parts data for one tall career conundrum that’s hard to digest. Still, for all his unabashed ranting, he concludes with some humility even the most traditional-print lovers might identify with:

“Maybe this is just our cultural lot: We live in the age of skimming. I want to finish the whole thing, I really do. I wish you would, too. Really—stop quitting! But who am I kidding. I’m busy. You’re busy. There’s always something else to read, watch, play, or eat.”

Like it or not, how we read is changing. Mashable made headlines in 2011 by publishing research from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found that “more people get their news from the Internet than from newspapers — and more ad dollars went to online outlets than to newspapers, too.” Most of the study respondents were aged 18-29, and this group, we know, is the next generation of readers editors will serve. Our logic follows as such: if how we read is changing, how we write will change next, followed by how we edit.

We’re now encouraging our students to think through these issues as editors. In the third unit, they are to edit writing for the web. Some of the exercises in this unit involve analyzing web pages for visual design, layout, and formatting. Some of these differences are out of their control. In other words, cascading style sheets or existing house style stipulations will determine how they edit. But when such constraints aren’t in play, experience critiquing and knowledge of who to change these editorial considerations will come in handy.

In prepping for the new readers, our students will also need to learn how to form new partnerships; namely, they should start thinking about partnerships with designers. On Wednesday of this week, Dr. Leverenz told our class: “There were once these very clear lines distinguishing writers [from] designers… those relationships are now fluid and people are relying very heavily on collaboration.” The lines that divide writers from designers are now blurred, and consequently, the lines that distinguish editorial work will necessarily change, too. These blurred lines challenge us to build new relationships based on new responsibilities.

I wonder, though, for any reader out there: Were you prepared to write/edit/design for new readers?

In class, we’re analyzing the changes. In the coming weeks, we will have editors visiting our class to talk about their current practices and how they see editing changing. Are other editing classes analyzing, discussing, or bringing in third-party speakers? If not, what are others doing differently? What would you do (or would have done) differently?

I’d love to hear more ideas. Lurkers, consider my warm and sincere interest in your experiences and feel free to comment below.

Week Ten: Changeover

In 2012, conversational use of hopefully was approved.

In 2013, underway was embraced with little to no clamor.

In 2014, over won’t be quite as lucky.Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 5.24.27 PM

My dear friend, and former editor at The Kansas City Star, jokingly posted a news story to Facebook about the AP Stylebook editors’ decision to accept over in describing excessive numerical amounts as opposed to the longstanding favorite, more than. The responses were quick-witted and cranky. I’d expect nothing less from the most dedicated editor and writer types.

The tweets came even quicker. Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 5.20.57 PM

A frustrated insider sent a tongue-in-cheek tweet at 1:19 pm on Thursday, and by the time it was reprinted in this Poynter story at 5:52 p.m. it had been retweeted 332 times and favorited by 118 Twitter users.

For a word that’s used so commonly in conversation, why do we care so much when it’s replaced in writing?

It’s not just editors who care. Teachers care, too. After all, changes at AP will inevitably ripple out to other style manuals and set a new norm in the classroom. One teacher expressed her disagreement with the change in the comments section of the Poynter article.

 

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A Ms. Bridget Grogan said: “Doesn’t fly with me. I will continue to teach my students to use “more than”. Common usage is the excuse? A lot of people are doing it wrong, so we will too? Sigh…”

Before indulging your urge to edit what Grogan wrote, think about why she might have written it. Is this preservation of language in the best interest of her students? She seems to think so.

In response to what she wrote, another commenter said: “Common usage is not the excuse, it is what dictates the rule. …Are you going to continue to teach your students those rules? Of course not. Because that’s no longer how we USE the language.”

For editing teachers, where do your pedagogical beliefs lie? The rules of usage or the rules language users create? From reading The Copyeditor’s Handbook, our students learned that this dispute is the old descriptivists vs. prescriptivists debate. The descriptivist, according to John Updike, “proposes no ideal of clarity in language or, beyond that, of grace, which might serve as an instrument of discrimination,” whereas the prescriptivists hold tight and fast to the artificiality of rules, which are crafted by “language mavens” from “bits of folklore” but “make no sense on any level” (Einsohn 338).

The AP Stylebook editors’ announcement of usage changes for three years running gives more ethos to the descriptivist camp, and I suspect that modern editing students will prefer to descriptivism. I wrapped up class by showing the Poynter news story on the projector board, a sort of parting thought. The students laughed. Apparently, they find the change unworthy of so much clamor.

Or perhaps, they noticed the apocalyptic comments at the bottom stating that this is over most can bear.

 

Week Seven: Editing in The Liberal Arts and Unlikely to Become Obsolete

Image credit to Dr. John Fea, Stonybrook University Department of History.

Image credit to Dr. John Fea, Stonybrook University Department of History.

Despite all the pedagogical searching I’ve done in past posts, it just occurred to me this week that I, and perhaps many other editing teachers, make the assumption that editing is a skill students need to learn while studying at a university and any university, for that matter. The assumption isn’t helpful when one engages in discussion with other writing teachers, though, particularly those who think editing an unnecessary skill for students pursuing a liberal arts education, like our students at TCU. Some writing teachers also think the skill of editing will soon become obsolete in the age of autocorrect technology and others think editing encourages a reductive, product-pedagogy approach to teaching writing.

To those arguing that editing classes aren’t necessary because editing is an almost trade-like skill, not an art form to be studied and held in high regard as, say, the study of the British literature canon or the history of French Nouveau Art, I want to acknowledge that those concerns are logical. A liberal arts education comes with a certain set of values attached and instructors know this reality to be true, but do the students enrolling in liberal arts universities fully understand this reality? We might also question how best to react when a demand for more editing classes is acknowledged, most likely because more students want to work in the fields of editing and publishing, not academia. Do we refuse the requests of those students? Do we ask them to accept that a certain career path in editing that was marketed to them isn’t actually attainable to them with an English degree? Do we nudge liberal arts students to careers in academia? I hope not. Given my pedagogical values, I’d attempt to adapt to the needs of my learners in any situation, acknowledging if and when the academic vision of my institution furthers or hinders their needs. If I have a student who is enrolled at a liberal arts institution but wants editing experience, I’m not inclined to ignore this need. I’m inclined to be responsive. So I put this question to teachers: Is there a pedagogical disconnect between your students’ learning needs and those set forth in your university’s mission? If so, which set of needs will you support? Have you considered how this disconnect might affect writing instruction more than we realize?

To those of the opinion that the skill of editing will soon become obsolete due to the automation of spelling and grammar correction technologies, I ask you to tab over in your browser to a crassly-titled site, F You, Auto Correct. The purpose of the site is simple, its audience mainstream, but the “germs attacking” becomes “germans attacking” and the puppies are accidentally taken to the “boilers” instead of the “groomers,” remind us that editing technologies are just as prone to error as the humans who create them. At some point, they will err. When they do, we can only hope that individual editing skills will be sufficient for correction, and that a competent, well-trained copyeditor at Microsoft is already working to fix the problem. Here we see technological determinism, a theory unique to the rapidly growing discipline of the digital humanities, rear its ugly head and remind us that overreliance on technology does all of us a disservice.

Finally, to those committed to process pedagogy, your concerns are valid, but I want to spend some time with John Bryant, a writing scholar who reminds us we shouldn’t run to any extreme on a pedagogical spectrum. On this spectrum, we might see product approaches to teaching composition on the right and distanced from process approaches farther down on the left, the latter being more holistic and pedagogically effective than the former (click here for a more detailed explanation of these pedagogies). In his 2009 article, “Editing is Learning,” Bryant presents an idea that disrupts that spectrum, by bringing opposite ends closer together with the claim that superficial errors and corrections can be of great benefit to the developing writer (126). As part of his defense, Bryant presents a practical example from when an editor felt his reputation hinged on an article publication that was edited poorly, alerting us to the very real consequences of not teaching editing (127). “Editing,” he goes on to say, “is a search for discourse; it is more seminar than lecture” (Bryant 127). He goes on to posit that when students are fully engaged and invested in learning editing, the results are a better “finished product” and that editing learning is often associated with as well as a richer development of the writer’s process as “communal” and connected to the processes of other editors and writers (Bryant 127). So while it’s easy to jump on the process bandwagon, it’s equally easy to get carried too far in the process direction and forget that skills like editing have their value, too.

 

Week Two: Editing for Evaluation

Editing for evaluation, as a phrase, makes for a simple alliteration. As a practice, it’s not so simple.

The first way of editing for evaluation is the intended readership, who evaluates a piece of writing based on how well it’s edited. This is the first audience, the first one that comes to mind for most writers or editors, I imagine. It’s the abstracted audience we’re trying to bring our students closer to, and as Carol Fisher Saller reminds us in The Subversive Copy Editor, our first loyalty is always to the readers (4).

In editing for reader evaluation, the goal is to gain the reader’s trust. Trust of the author’s words comes in part from accuracy of the information presented but also how it’s presented, i.e. enter the presentation’s master of ceremonies, our editor. Correct punctuation, grammar, and even visual consistency in formatting is what she’ll use to establish this trust, presenting the writer as every bit as competent as she or he is when the rules of Standard English haven’t suggested otherwise. Yet, while the editor works most closely with the author to achieve a perfect presentation, the editor is often invisible to readers. This third-party presenter goes unnoticed by most, or at least, that’s the unstated outcome.

I wonder how many readers actually notice an error and linger over it, wondering whether the writer intended it, the editor noticed it, or if a conversation was held in regards to that error. In regards to the last wondering: probably not. I’ve told students in the past that “Readersre lazy…” for lack of a more articulate way of conveying that readers usually don’t invest much time in reading. Fascinating testimony to decreased reading attention online is Farhad Manjoo’s “You Won’t Finish This Article,” which draws on statistics from a recent study on just how far down the page an online reader is willing to go—not to mention the frequency at which a story is shared even though it hasn’t been fully read. The modern audience wants information fast, and if an appears, it probably isn’t going to be pondered. The nature of the error and the editor tied to it won’t be considered. Rather, it will be added to the tally of reasons to trust or not trust what the writer is saying. Save for that residual impression, it is long forgotten.

The second audience evaluating edits is the writer. Considerations of this audience consumed much of our class discussion today as we followed up on the “Characteristics of an Editor” assignment from last week, juxtaposing student observations with an impromptu discussion of the “Characteristics of a Writer.” That conversation related the the two ways of evaluating editing—how the characteristics of both editor and writer needed to be in order to complement one another. A good writer, for example, will be open-minded to feedback, and in turn a good editor will be transparent in her editing. A symbiotic relationship such as this one is ideal, but oftentimes when egos take to the page, the symbiosis becomes problematic. That’s another post entirely, so let’s continue on with our evaluating audiences.

The third audience worth addressing, and the one I’m most interested in at present, is the editor. Editors within a publication interact. Between publications, editors must interact, too, albeit in less direct ways. Today, I’m concerned with the editors in our class. When it comes time for them to be evaluated by us, what’s the most helpful way to provide feedback?

Depending on the editor and the purpose of a particular editing job, editing feedback varies. Most often it’s red ink, copyedit marks, and sometimes it’s a thoughtful letter, query, or conversation. In academia, you might have all of that, plus a letter grade. How do we grade to produce better editors?

I have a few ideas. Personally, I dislike red ink. I’ll talk to Dr. Leverenz about this more; I know some think it trivial, but to me it’s always been important to grade in a traditionally less aggressive ink color. For this first editing exercise, queries and feedback probably aren’t necessary, but a rubric might be. For every opinion I have on rubrics—some favorable, some hardly polite—there’s a student with a different opinion and a different need. I wonder what an editing rubric might look like. How might it be arranged or scaled differently? What are its categories? In rhetoric and composition studies, editing and publishing classes aren’t a frequent point of discussion. Michael Charlton at Missouri Western University shared his course design for 408/508 Technical Editing, and it mirrors a lot of our curricula in this course. From what’s shared, Charlton does in fact use rubrics, but the write-up doesn’t provide any sample rubrics for us to peruse.

I emailed Dr. Charlton, and I certainly hope to receive a response. But at the end of a long search yielding no fruitful results, I’m questioning whether one is needed? Do other editing teachers forego the editing rubric because it’s not used in the real world? Might it set up unrealistic expectations for future feedback? In other words, would I be coddling my students, a group of professionals I want to take seriously, especially since a majority of them are about to graduate and enter the workforce? I’m not sure. I’ll table the discussion until Monday, but I want to continue to think about this question, and this is precisely my reason for creating this site. Not only do I hope to help editors with a repository of references and links, but I want to create a discussion about teaching editing. If we can teach it more effectively, maybe our students can be more effective in the workplace. Good evaluation practices will perpetuate good editing practices.