At the university where I teach, I am conducting 30 one-on-one conferences this week – each for twenty minutes.
In one such conference, I met with a student who had written a fine position paper. Her essay had a succinct thesis, a strong introduction, and a solid accumulation of support. The only problem was that I didn’t assign a position paper. I assigned a narrative.
Her essay was actually better written than some of her classmates’ papers; however, her paper didn’t meet the requirements of the assignment.
During our conference, I shared with her the many strengths of her paper, but then I reviewed the requirements of the assignment. I gave her a few more days to write a narrative, and then I encouraged her to keep her position paper because she can use it as an early draft for the argumentative research paper that we will be writing later on in the semester.
Early intervention is key to successful college writing.
In years past, it has been customary for teachers to simply assign an essay, collect an essay, and then grade an essay. This kind of final assessment does not actually help students become better writers though.
Assign. Collect. Grade.
With this mode, the end result – the product – is prioritized over the process.
With formative assessments, however, we come alongside our students while there is still time to make some adjustments or perhaps try a different direction.
Thus, I see my role as more of a writing coach. After all, a coach never sent a player into the game, only to retreat to a lounge for some snacks and then re-emerge after the game to tell the player how well, or how poorly, he or she performed.
A good coach is on the sidelines – watching the game, cheering the players on, and giving them instructions – while it still counts.
Granted, the world of composition pedagogy has come a long way. Some professors in this field might even submit this “new” methodology for teaching composition as a revolutionary concept.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that this is exactly how Jesus taught his disciples.
Jesus didn’t just tell people what to do or how to live. He showed them. He lived among them. Most importantly, he came alongside them, as their teacher and their friend. When they messed up, as his disciples had a habit of doing, Jesus would gently correct them. Yes, He was sometimes direct, and sometimes a little stern. But He was always, always loving.
Jesus cared for his disciples. They were his students, and He was their teacher.
Jesus always emphasized process over product. He never told anyone to clean up their act and get their lives in order before coming to Him for a final grade.
Rather, Jesus has always stood at the door of people’s hearts, asking if He could come alongside them and help them in the process of becoming more like Him.
I will resume my series on Colossians after this week of conferencing is over. Happy writing to you.