Author Archives: ervinchr

Strategies for Writing Feedback

by Chris Ervin

In the Writing Center, we provide students, faculty, staff, and alumni with feedback on all kinds of writing. As faculty and staff, we are similarly called on by our colleagues to provide feedback on writing like grant applications, reports, article drafts, letters, and emails. We all want to provide helpful and supportive feedback to our colleagues, and below I share an approach we use in the Writing Center to provide that kind of supportive feedback. This approach creates space for the writer to gain valuable information from you as a reader, while also emphasizing their agency and decision-making as the writer.

Step 1: Share Your Observations

We begin by making observations about the text. As readers, we navigate between reading to understand and reading to look for potential. You may have noticed that when meaning is clear, we continue reading without confusion. When it’s not clear, we sometimes engage in meaning-making ourselves or look for potential solutions to problems we’re experiencing.

However, in our feedback process, we focus on our observations. After all, our colleagues want us to help them see the draft in another way; they generally don’t want us to rewrite the draft for them.  Observing can be as simple as noticing in a non-evaluative way. For example, “I noticed that the report consistently uses language and technical jargon from your discipline.” Paired with the next two elements—a reader’s response and prompting questions—observation is a valuable starting point for prompting reflection on a draft.

Step 2: Respond as a Reader

The next step is giving the writer a sense of how you understand the text. In other words, respond as a reader of the text. A reader can be many things: engaged, bored, confused, surprised, and so on. This information is valuable to a writer who may want to understand how their draft is being experienced or interpreted.

An example of a reader’s response that might follow the observation above is, “As someone outside of your discipline, I had trouble understanding some of the technical jargon—particularly in the third and fourth paragraphs.” Paired with observation, the reader’s response suggests one possible experience of a reader. By itself, this response is already valuable for a writer, as they might be able to determine a next step just based on the observation and response. We also have a third step though that can prompt the writer’s thinking on next steps.

Step 3: Ask Authentic Questions

The final step is asking authentic questions that help the writer reflect on the draft. The questions can prompt a writer to think about how to shape a draft in ways that accomplish their goals—whether that’s with revision or leaving the draft as-is.

Questions that prompt reflection are typically questions you as the reader do not have the answer for. If you are asking a question you already know the answer to, you may be providing advice based on what you think the draft should be rather than creating space for the writer to imagine possibilities. For example, questions that relate to example in the last section might be “Who is the audience—or are there multiple audiences? What level of technical expertise on this topic will your reader(s) have? What familiarity would your audience(s) have with jargon and discipline-specific language?” With these questions, you as the reader are not directing the writer to change or reduce the technical jargon; instead, you’re prompting the reader to consider the audience’s needs with regard to jargon.

Facilitation vs. Direction

Following the steps outlined above can maintain a supportive stance as a reader—facilitating thinking rather than directing the draft or the writer’s decisions. This allows the writer, our colleagues, to maintain control of their work and draft while also gaining valuable information that can help them in decision-making and next steps for the document.

Staff Picks – What We’re Reading

compiled by Chris Ervin

In this Staff Picks, we share what we’ve been reading lately. Our selections cover a range of topics and genres, each showing how we were compelled and engaged by the authors’ treatment of the desire to belong, to feel part of a communal experience, and to be valued for our unique contributions. We’re reading scholarly books, research reports, blogs, and novels—all of which are informing our work during this very difficult time.

We invite you, our readers of The Success Kitchen, to share what you’re reading with us. Fill out this survey with your own reading selection and your submission might be featured in the next issue of The Success Kitchen!

Sarah Norek

These days I’Pax coverm reading Sara Pennypacker’s Pax with my kids. It’s about a boy, Peter, and his fox, Pax, and explores the themes of uncertainty, loss, trauma, connection, and what we hold inside ourselves. So many of our students (our colleagues, ourselves) are holding a lot inside. And we may know so little from the outside. “He could offer only withness, and nothing else.” This from a moment when Pax lies down with another fox to be with him through a life transition. While I’m not saying we can’t offer more than withness, this line struck me in its closeness to witness—in being with another individual in a moment, a series of moments, an experience. I keep thinking about how I can be with students this term, even as we’re apart.

Clare Creighton

HMN Report coverIn the last month, Sarah Norek and I partnered with CAPS colleagues to create a webinar and a self-guided Canvas module on “Learning During Times of Stress,” (shameless plug: you can find it here). In the process of that work, I read the Impact of COVID-19 on College Student Well-Being report. I appreciated the report highlighting how concerned students feel about mental health. These results will impact how I approach student communication and student staff training on empathy, support, and self-care as they deliver services. I’m also mindful of how student experiences are impacted by current national events and am looking forward to learning how OSU students are doing based on our September student survey.

Chris Gasser

Discrimination and Disparities coverI’ve recently finished reading Discrimination and Disparities (2018) by Thomas Sowell. In his book, Sowell provides an economist’s interpretation of socioeconomic disparities and the relationship between discrimination and disparity by presenting research and questioning some of our most basic assumptions. In our work with students, we might find use of Sowell’s nuanced categorization of discrimination to understand disparities that exist within higher ed. As we seek to make the university a more equitable place, Sowell’s book challenges us to think about how our policies may or may not respond to different types of discrimination that exist within our current educational environment.

Marjorie Coffey

Screencap of Jesse Stommel's websiteJesse Stommel’s website—which highlights his work on critical digital pedagogies and building inclusive online learning communities—has helped me think more intentionally about course design, community, student needs, and assessment as I plan for fall. As examples, recent posts “Becoming a Student Ready Teacher” by Eddy Conroy and Jesse Stommel and “Designing for Care: Inclusive Pedagogies for Online Learning” encourage us to learn about our students—their everyday experiences, needs, and challenges—and to ask ourselves tough questions that can lead to pedagogical and policy changes that demonstrate care and compassion in our work.

Anika Lautenbach

The Sun logoFor years I have been reading The Sunand this magazine continues to provide a bit of solace and much needed breaks from the screen. Sometimes I only have time for the Readers Write section, which includes personal stories that give me greater perspective on the unique experience of each person. When supporting students, I find that empathy needs to be part of every conversation. It starts with listening, and I found The Power of Story to be especially compelling right now. It helps me remember that we must approach each other with compassion and find a way to connect.

Chris Ervin

Station Eleven coverI recently re-read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel—a novel following a troupe of actors and their orchestra through hardships before and after an apocalypse that erases most trappings of society that define modern life. Unlike other post-apocalyptic novels which often emphasize our ability to find common ground in the face of hardship, Station Eleven explores the relationship between humans and art, embracing the idea that creating, appreciating, and celebrating art is an integral part of the human experience, even in desperate times. Throughout 2020, we’ve faced a pandemic, advanced resistance movements to end systemic racism, and suffered egregious loss of life and of social connectedness, but we continue to celebrate the beauty and complexity of the human condition. Station Eleven tells us that’s okay, even when facing life-and-death decisions on a daily basis.