Feedback in writing class

My second distant-ed writing class at the university starts on Monday next week. I’ve been looking forward to it since the beginning of the summer when I finished the first class. This follow-up class will have the same structure as the first one: writing assignments, feedback and literature discussions.

I truly enjoyed the writing assignments in the first class as they forced me to write things I’m not comfortable with, like dialogue and poems, and in doing so made me realize that I shouldn’t be afraid of approaching certain parts of writing. I wasn’t as thrilled about the reading assignments though. More than half of the books we were supposed to read had a very spiritual approach to the writing process and the life one would lead as a writer. Those kind of books are not really my cup of tea. I get tired of the repetitiveness of the message; write because you’ll feel better and write every day. I’m more of a practical girl and like the books on how to structure stories, how to use words and how to plan a plot and such.

I got through the reading and I got through the (often) lame discussions they led up to. My biggest struggles though were in the feedback area. Every assignment was posted online for other students to read and leave feedback on. We worked in groups of ten. For every assignment we were obligated to leave feedback on at least five different texts. I found giving feedback to be very difficult. We weren’t critiquing (finding faults or just giving praise) but giving the writer a chance to see how we as readers felt and thought of the text, what kind of questions it raised and what parts we found unclear or even too clear. It was all in the name of wanting to help the writer improve the text.

I worked hard on my feedback. I know I’m very nit-picking when it comes to texts and my eyes and mind often just focus on the language. I see the words that aren’t spelled correctly, the verbs that are not used in the right sense, the wrong articles or pronouns, the missing commas and prepositions. I like grammar. And structure. (Not that I’m always grammatically correct myself… Especially when writing in English…) What I’m having a harder time with is seeing if a character is developed enough, if a story has the right pace or if there’s a connecting theme to the text. I guess I know language but not as much story-telling.

Anyways, I spent a lot of time on my feedback, really trying to address different aspects of the text. I tried to be constructive and come up with alternative sentences if something didn’t make sense to me. I suggested other words if something jumped out at me as not really fitting. Reading someone’s text, drafting my thoughts and writing the actual feedback took me between an hour and an hour and a half. This resulted in me spending approximately 6 hours working with feedback for every assignment.

And I often got feedback that were either just three sentences long or focused on a memory or a thought that the reader had had while going through my words. Feedback that I estimate took about ten minutes or so to produce. Very seldom did I get feedback that helped me make my text better, feedback that offered advice on parts that needed improvement or questions leading up to me clarifying parts of the text. I was often disappointed. And I never got used to the fact that I didn’t know how my feedback was received. Did they appreciate it? Did I unintentionally hurt someone? Did they use any of my suggestions? The structure of the class didn’t give us the forms to communicate about the feedback.

I realized that many of my group members didn’t make this class a priority. They handed everything in right before deadline and rushed through feedback and discussions. I hoped that the ones who couldn’t prioritize the class wouldn’t sign up for a second one. I hoped for new group members. And then yesterday I did the offical registration for the class online and realized that many of the names around my name were the same as they were this spring…

Suddenly I don’t feel as pumped about this class as I did before. I look forward to it, but not with the same excitement.

I do try to focus on the positive experiences I had in writing the assignments, reading books I most likely wouldn’t have picked out myself, getting to know some of my fellow students a bit in their writing life, trying to learn to approach a text without expectations and becoming better at giving feedback. I learnt some and had lots of fun in the class.

Let’s hope for me becoming part of a group in which all members love feedback!

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2 responses to “Feedback in writing class

  1. I do hope you will find yourself a group that realizes that feedback is important. And that giving feedback probably will give you almost as much as receiving feedback. I work as a technical writer, something completely different from what you are doing in this class, but I do understand the importance of both giving and receiving feedback. Keep going, Anna!

  2. I hope class goes well when it starts this week. It is too bad that there isn’t a different set of students in this class. It is always hard to be in a situation with people who have different expectations of learning than you do. I hope that you are able to grow your writing even more during this class even if the feedback process can be frustrating.

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