WriteCast Episode 32: The Great Debate: Continuity or Variety in Writing Feedback?
© Walden University Writing Center 2016
BRITTANY: Welcome to WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. I’m Brittany Kallman Arneson,
BETH: And I’m Beth Nastachowski.
BRITTANY: Today on WriteCast we’re going to be hosting a debate, and I don’t want you to worry because this will be far less contentious than our recent round of presidential debates. So this will be more pleasant and fun, so stick with us and we’re going to be sticking to just one topic—the question of whether it’s better to work consistently with one writing instructor or to get different kinds of feedback from different people.
BRITTANY: Now we’re talking specifically in the context of Walden and the writing instructors who work here in the Walden Writing Center, but if you’re not a Walden student and you’re listening, this can apply to any feedback that you would get from anyone. So tutoring in a different writing center or really any feedback that you might get from any outside reader. So kind of debating, when it comes to writing instruction, is consistency more valuable or is variety more valuable? We’ll be presenting the arguments for both of those sides but we’ll leave it up to you as the listener to decide which is best for you.
BETH: So this is a question that writing instructors have a lot within the writing center, and we talk about whether it’s better to encourage students to work with us again and again—so, making an appointment with the same writing instructor week after week or with every appointment, or to get another perspective on their writing and to work with a variety of instructors. Here at the Walden Writing Center we have a lot of different instructors and so there is an opportunity for students to work with a wide range of people. And so we talk about which is the best recommendation for students. And we hear students ask this question, too, which is best. Should I work with the same writing instructor or should I work with a variety of writing instructors—so, it’s definitely something that we think about and talk about in the writing center.
BRITTANY: Yes, we do talk about this a lot and, in spite of that fact, I don’t think that in the history of the Walden Writing Center that we’ve ever done a sort of official listing of the pros and cons of each of those approaches. So this has been kind of a fun exercise for us too and we’re learning a lot about why students make one choice over the other choice as well. So we’re going to do this debate in two parts. First Beth and I will debate the pros and cons of working with the same instructor and then we’ll debate pros and cons of working with different instructors and getting a variety of feedback. Beth will be taking the side of promoting working with the same instructor over time, while I’ll be arguing for working with different instructors over time. So let’s start by talking about the pros and cons of working with the same instructor. And Beth I’ll let you start with maybe a little opening argument about why somebody might want to choose to work with the same instructor multiple times in a row.
BETH: Yeah, thanks, Brittany. So, one of the ways you can work with a writing instructor in the writing center is by making appointments with the same writing instructor. And that might mean appointments with the same writing instructor multiple times a week or maybe you have an appointment with that instructor every week or every couple of weeks. But working with the same instructor has a couple different benefits. And one of the biggest benefits that I’ve seen when working with students over and over again is that you really are able to create a sense of continuity between your appointments. So, by working with the same instructor, the writing instructor is going to be able to get to know you and you will be able to get to know them, and it’s really helpful in that then you can create kind of a shorthand between you, and create a relationship really so that the instructor really knows what you’re working on and where you’ve come from as well. Maybe in the first appointment you have with the writing instructor you really are looking for some help with paragraphing and so the instructor can give you feedback. And then in the next appointment with the same writing instructor, the instructor can give you feedback on how you’ve improved in your paragraphs or areas where you still might need to make some changes. So that can create some continuity in both sort of creating a relationship with that person, but also create some continuity in that writing instruction because the instructor doesn’t have to start with scratch for each appointment. They know where you’ve been and they know where you’re going as well.
BRITTANY: Yeah, I think those are really good arguments for working with the same instructor. On the other hand I think sometimes it’s possible that that feedback from that same person over and over again could potentially get sort of stagnant or hit a wall. I mean, don’t you think maybe sometimes a student might with that they were getting different feedback from other people because the writing instructor might not have as many strategies for approaching a certain problem after a little while of working with that student.
BETH: Yeah I mean I think that that can happen sometimes, but I also think on the flipside of that, if you’re working with the same writing instructor and you do feel like the feedback is getting a little stagnant or hitting that wall you are also then creating and developing a relationship with that person. So what’s great about that is because you have this relationship you can ask the instructor, you know, “I know you’re helping me with my organization but I’m not quite seeing it yet, is there a different way that you can explain this, or is there a different resource you can point me to or is there another way we can talk about this.” And you might feel more comfortable doing that and asking for that different kind of approach because you’ve created the relationship with this person. So, you know, a kind of a counterargument to that one, Brittany.
BRITTANY: That’s a great counterargument. One challenge I think to working with the same instructor over time is just a purely logistical one, which is that you may encounter difficulty scheduling appointments around the timeframe that you want with a particular instructor. So that could be an argument for working with different instructors over time.
BETH: Mhm. Yeah I think that’s a good point, and, I guess, I’m supposed to be arguing for this but I will say too. There can be difficulties if you’re working with the same writing instructor and maybe they go on vacation for a week or two as well, where you might have to be a little bit flexible. So I’d also say that maybe another option here is that you work with another writing instructor but sprinkle in other writing instructors once in a while. So, Brittany, do you want to go into your sort of pros for working with different instructors?
BRITTANY: Sure, yes. So my main argument for why you would want to work with a variety of different instructors basically has to do with the variety of perspectives on your writing that you can get if you work with multiple people on that writing. So you might get just purely different styles from different writing instructors or different readers who are giving you feedback, some of which may make more sense to you than others, so you get a chance to kind of play around and see what you like and what works for you and what makes sense to you. It’s also possible, and this is probably true outside the context of the Walden Writing Center, but especially true here in the Walden Writing Center where we’re linking you to a lot of different outside resources as well in our paper reviews—different writing instructors work on different projects outside of paper reviews and that might mean that you know we have certain resources that we’re more familiar with, that we’re more apt to refer students to, and so working with a variety of writing instructors might mean that you’re gonna get a variety of resources or a wider variety of resources provided to you that can help you sort of navigate the other resources that we have available in the Walden Writing Center as well. So that variety of perspectives and variety of resources, those are, those are kind of my main arguments for why you might want to switch it up.
BETH: So, one of the things that can happen then is that, when you’re working with multiple instructors, yeah you might get a variety of resources, but what also can happen is sometimes instructors will send you the same resources or they don’t realize that you’ve already viewed other resources so you lose that continuity that we were talking about before. And potentially too depending on what you’re looking at or what you’d like help with in your paper, writing instructors might focus on entirely different things in their feedback. And so that could be helpful in that you’re getting a wide variety of different kinds of instruction and feedback on different things in your writing, but it could also kind of create some sort of scatteredness, where your first writing instructor talks about paragraphing and the second writing instructor talks about the thesis statement, so you don’t really get feedback on how you did on your paragraphing, right, and how you improved so you can just lose some of that continuity there.
BRITTANY: Yeah, absolutely, I think that’s a very fair criticism of this approach. However, I would also say that if that were a risk, and I’m acknowledging that it is, that there might be some kind of repletion or less continuity, that can be an opportunity for the student to sort of drive this process and take ownership of it. So a lot of times I think, especially when students are starting out in the process of working with us in the writing center or working with anybody to get feedback on their writing, they are a little bit more passive in the process. So they might just say “whatever feedback you want to give me, I’ll welcome that.” And that’s fine. You know, that’s a totally appropriate way to approach this process, but over time I think the goal is for the student to go from the passenger’s seat to the driver’s seat of the process. So for the student to be able to evaluate what kind of feedback he or she wants, what are the areas that he or she really wants to work on or improve on. what kinds of feedback or feedback styles work for him or her. And working with multiple instructors or getting feedback from multiple people can sort of help build that skill of driving your own process of improving as a writer, which I think is a really important one and, you know sometimes we talk about building good scholarly chops, or you know, kind of becoming—becoming a good scholar, not just a good writer but a good researcher, a good synthesizer of information and I think that sometimes when you’re working with multiple people giving feedback from sort of multiple different perspectives, that can increase your ability to build those skills as well.
BETH: Yeah, I think, I think that’s a really good point, Brittany, and I don’t know that we always talk about paper reviews as sort of helping students build their scholarly chops. You know their skills in being a scholar practitioner I guess, and I think you’re right that just the act of doing this will help with your writing skills but just help you be an academic in general, so I think that’s a great point.
BETH: So, Brittany, originally, you know, we were kind of talking about these two different ways of working with the writing center as opposites, but I think what we would both agree on is that really it’s up to the student and that different approaches will work well for different students at different points in their writing career at Walden, I think.
BETH: So what I’d like to suggest to everyone is just to think about these two ways of working with the writing center as kind of working in tandem. And what I would suggest to students if they were actually wanting a concrete suggestion—Beth, what should I do?—is if you’re new to Walden, if you’re new to academic writing, if you’re new to the writing center, try to work with the same instructor and build that relationship. Because that will kind of help ease you into the process of getting feedback and using that feedback and building that relationship and help make you feel a bit more comfortable with that. But then once you feel a bit more comfortable and you’ve worked with the same writing instructor for a little bit, start adding in other writing instructors so that you can get the benefits of getting a variety of perspectives. But doing that, and adding in the other writing instructors and kind of mixing it up once you have a bit more experience and have a bit more confidence even I think will really help make sure that you’re getting the most out of those different perspectives and the variety of writing instructors.
BRITTANY: I love that suggestion, Beth. I think that’s so smart. And I want to note too for our students, especially here at Walden that, it may be that our schedule availability sort of makes that decision for you sometimes. And that’s just the reality of, you know, how things work and sometimes you’ve got to choose somebody different. But that’s okay, as we’ve shown there are pros and cons to both, so even if you want to follow Beth’s advice, her good advice, and start out with some consistency, even if it was consistency with like one or two instructors for a few and then adding a few more in that would still be a good way to start out.
BETH: So we want to end with a recommendation that all of our Walden student listeners go to the Walden writing center and look for the big paper review button on the homepage of the writing center and make an appointment. We have just a fabulous staff of writing instructors that you make appointments with so not only will the paper review and getting feedback be helpful, it’ll be, I think really beneficial to create those relationships with one or as many writing instructors as you’d like. [Laughs].
BETH: So I encourage you to go to our website and make that appointment. And just a brief note for Walden students—our paper review appointments are available for students working on discussion posts, course papers, as well as the doctoral premise and prospectus, so we’re happy to give you feedback on those documents and look forward to seeing you and working with you. Thanks for listening!
BRITTANY: WriteCast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center. This episode was produced by me, Brittany Kallman Arneson; my co-host, Beth Nastachowski; and our colleague, Anne Shiell.