Scaffolding With Midterms

Though the repositioning of my desk after such a long wait had me walking on air this morning, the fact that the women of Preparatory Composition were all present and accounted by five minutes after the hour made my heart sing. Their request for merengue on Pandora added to the lighthearted atmosphere. We placed the desks in a circle and got right down to the freewriting topic of the day. The Discussant had sent it to me in a direct message on edmodo in case she arrived late to class. She was early today – another triumph!

After writing for ten minutes, I took attendance, marking the men excused, and the Discussant facilitated seven minutes of conversation on her topic:

What did it feel like writing a 500-word essay?

Responses were stiff for the first minute or two. Hard. Okay, Difficult but doable. Then, someone chuckled and things began to flow. During my time freewriting 339 words I tried to remember the strength of each Midterm exam I’d just graded so I could couch corrections in more favorable terms – the better to soften the blow of required revisions. One had the most coherent paragraphs. Another wrote the most words. Another made the best use of references to the article we’d read. Two had the most legible handwriting. Scaffolding learners requires carrots and sticks, compassion and clarity of purpose and practice above all for both learner and leader.

When I asked for whom PREPing paragraphs was the most difficult all hands went up one after the other. So, instead of discussing what learning had been like for them as women (the strategy I had used with the men) I passed out old business cards and asked everyone to write a topic that was important to them on the back of it. We proceeded, one round at a time, to provide a Point, Reason, Example and closing Point for the topic on the card, passing the card to the left after writing a single sentence. We made corrections to spelling, sentence structure, capitalization and content on each of the sentences we received before writing the one following the pattern and discussed challenging or compelling ones as they appeared.

Though I did not ask at the end of class because I was concerned about returning the furniture to the assigned places before the next instructor entered the room, I had the sense that things had become clearer as we crafted sentences and tethered them to the work of the writer next to us. This provided practice for the peer editing assignment to follow the revision and allowed me to do a show and tell of Jeff Galin’s article On Revision on the course website where their revisions and peer editing checklists would be submitted.

Two students needed clarification on how to revise their essays using the conclusion as their introduction and so they followed me outside of class as the next instructor arrived before five minutes to the start of his class. I answered their questions sitting on the bench in the corridor and decided obedience is better than sacrifice.

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