Diana Rose Newby
Graduate Student, Department of English & Comparative Literature; CTL Senior Lead Teaching Fellow
Diana Rose Newby, a consultant in the Columbia College Writing Center, shares two ways that she has adapted her consultation work with student-writers to an online format.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been working as a consultant in the Columbia College Writing Center, where I support undergraduate and graduate students across majors and disciplines. Beginning in March 2020, the Writing Center switched to a virtual platform, and I currently work with student-writers over Zoom. In what follows, I’ll share two ways that I’ve adapted this work to the online format.
The first approach is a strategy for giving feedback on students’ writing. When I started consulting virtually, I asked student-writers to share their work with me in an editable Google Doc so that I could make marginal notes and in-text changes along with the writer. This approach approximated how I used to work with students in-person: it allowed me to actively collaborate with them on their writing in a “hands-on” way. Over time, however, I’ve stopped marking up the text of students’ writing. Although I might make comments or take notes in the Zoom chat, I let writers do all the marking and editing of their drafts themselves.
I believe this adjustment helps students retain ownership over their writing. Although my intention in marking drafts was to make our work together feel hands-on and collaborative, I realized that some writers might perceive my interaction with the text as a form of editing, and that they might feel alienated from their own work as a result. By contrast, when I take a proverbial step back and let the writer do all the marking, they are more likely to stay engaged and maintain the agency to revise their draft on their own terms. When I return to classroom instruction next year—whether online or in-person—I want to reimagine my instructional feedback processes by replacing in-text mark-ups and marginal notes with less invasive and more empowering modes of responding to student writing.
The second approach is an initiative that the Writing Center began following the shift to our online format. In addition to our traditional one-on-one consultations, we now run regular “writing productivity sessions” that groups of students of all levels and disciplines can attend. Modeled on the Pomodoro technique, these two-hour sessions are divided into three blocks of writing time, during which students work on their projects without pauses or distractions. Our main goal when we introduced the writing productivity sessions was to address feedback from student-writers who were struggling to stay focused and get work done during the pandemic. Working with a group during these sessions creates a feeling of mutual accountability.
Equally, I see the writing productivity sessions as an opportunity for building community around writing as a process. In the sessions that I run, I begin by prompting writers to share what they’re working on, what their goals are for the session, and any obstacles they’re currently experiencing in their projects or processes. In addition to helping everyone get into the right frame of mind for writing, this agenda-setting exercise encourages a sense of shared investment and camaraderie around one another’s work. At the conclusion of a given session, I also reserve time for debriefing as a group and troubleshooting any challenges that participants might have encountered during the session.
In feedback on the writing productivity sessions, writers have repeatedly told me how much they appreciate our opening and closing discussions in particular. After one session in Fall 2020, a new participant—a first-year undergraduate—shared that these conversations were the first experiences that made him finally feel like a member of the Columbia community. When I return to classroom teaching, I plan to create similar opportunities for low-stakes, non-evaluative, and communal writing for my students.
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