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What Writing Can Teach Us

This morning was the first of three consecutive mornings that I’ll be spending reading the sophomore writing portfolios at my college. This is my first time reading such things, and I must say that it’s kind of daunting.

You see, each year, all the sophomores turn in three to five examples of their writing from their first two years of college. Each year, some time soon after school gets out, a whole bunch of faculty and some staff (all volunteers) gather to read hundreds and hundreds of portfolios over the course of three mornings. And this year, I’m included in this bunch of readers.

Readers volunteer for a number of reasons. They want to see examples of assignments from other professors. They want to re-calibrate their own grading by reading masses and masses of writing. They want to intervene with students who need help. And the list goes on. It’s really fun to see a bunch of people taking on a task that just has to get done, but rather than just do it they reinvent it as a powerful professional development tool.

I’m there because my college is thinking of coming up with information literacy benchmarks for first- and second-year students. So another librarian and I are helping to read the portfolios not only to help make it through the boxes and boxes of papers, but also to find examples of information literacy at work and see if we can generalize our observations to help us develop an assessment matrix or a first-year info-lit initiative.

So far, after reading only a couple of portfolios, I’ve learned that:

  • underclassmen don’t understand citation, but that they can do it if guided
  • they are happy to use outside sources, but the sources control the writer rather than the other way around
  • that they think of “fact” and “interpretation” as much more distinct categories than they really are
  • and that I’m a very slow portfolio reader (I’ll really have to pick up the pace tomorrow… it’s been a long time since I was a regular writing tutor and could do this in my sleep.)

On a somewhat separate note, I’m quite happy that I can walk into a room full of faculty members and not only greet and be greeted by name, but also carry on conversations with them about everything from libraries to pedagogy to gardening and not feel out of place. I’ve worked hard this past year to build this kind of relationship, and it’s finally feeling less I’m “just staff.” In fact, all the librarians have been working at getting involved in all sorts of things across campus, and now we’re beginning to be invited to meetings as less of an afterthought. Slowly but surely…

(The Pinky and the Brain song comes to mind…) Tee hee hee.

Published inOutside the LibraryTeaching and Learning

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  1. […] morning was the second of three mornings spent reading portfolios. I have to say, this could grow on me. We sat there at round tables reading paper after paper after […]

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