By Vicki Tolar Burton, WIC Directorvicki_crop

Faculty who have taken the WIC Seminar may remember Donald A. Daiker’s powerful article, “Learning to Praise” (1989). Examining studies of comments written on
student writing, Daiker notes, for example, that in a set of freshman essays, of 864 comments, only 51 were comments of praise. In another study, 89.4% of comments cited errors or criticized the writing, while only 10.6% of comments offered affirmation or praise. Daiker says, “Perhaps we need to go back to school ourselves to learn how to recognize what merits praise in student writing.”

Every OSU department or unit with an undergraduate major has the annual opportunity to praise and celebrate strong student writing by awarding the WIC Culture of Writing Award in their discipline to their top undergraduate writer. This recognition is very significant to our students. They are not used to being praised for their writing, much less winning and award. Despite the impact on students, typically, only about fifteen to eighteen departments/units, of a possible 70+ majors, nominate an undergrad for this award. This is not an extensive competition: if the unit nominates the student, the student wins the award. This is an easy, inexpensive (unit contributes $50, WIC matches) way to send the message to our undergraduates that the faculty and the university value excellent writing.

In addition to honoring a student writer, the selection process within the unit gives faculty an opportunity to identify the qualities of good writing in their particular discipline, information that should be communicated to students in every course.

Please consider nominating one of your upper division student writers for the WIC Culture of Writing Award in your discipline—and persuading your unit to participate in the awards. Let’s practice praising excellence in undergraduate writing. Information on the nomination process appears elsewhere in this issue.

In praise of praise, Daiker quotes novelist Raymond Carver who remembers his own teacher John Gardner’s generous (though exacting) comments:  “He was always looking to find something to praise. When there was a sentence, a line of dialogue, or a narrative passage that he liked, something that he thought ‘worked’ and moved the story along in some pleasant or unexpected way, he’d write ‘Nice’ in the margin or else ‘Good!’ And seeing these comments, my heart would lift. (quoted in Daiker 111)

Let’s lift the hearts of OSU writers across the curriculum with Culture of Writing awards and well deserved praise.

Daiker, Donald S. “Learning to Praise.” Writing and Response: Theory, Practice, and Research. Chris Anson, Ed. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1989.

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