How to Peer Edit

It is in the process of peer editing fellow writers’ papers for my creative writing classes that I am realizing I do not know how to properly critique a paper. Yes, I am able to give grammatical corrections and, if I am taking the time, pinpoint when in a paragraph the topic sentence is no longer holding true and the thought goes off track. However, I am unable to give any advice of real importance. When reading the critiques from my entire class (unfortunately for them I was on a very short time schedule and picked first for the in class peer review. Needless to say, it was not some of my finer writing), classmates were able to make assumptions, parallels, decoding of simple words and phrases, and make all of it useful and helpful and most impressive: easy. When I give my critiques, I almost feel bad handing it in because I know that I will not be able to live up to the work that they have given me. Is this reflective as my skills as a writer? I believe that yes, it is. While I can make papers argumentative and sometimes, if I am trying VERY hard, beautiful, but rarely do i find my writing to have any meaning deeper than that easily discerned by skimming the surface. I hope that through the practice of creative thinking and critiquing I will be able to learn how to one day reach into a place where I make those connections that so many of my peers do so well.


In all our ordinary judgments about the qualities of things, we can recognize and describe deviations from a norm very much more clearly than we can describe the norm itself.

This statement is clarified by Schon to mean the judgments and actions we take subconsciously, without knowing the reasons behind the decisions and without being able to explain them well. He goes on and uses examples like throwing and hitting a ball, doing a math problem, riding a bike, walking and crawling, and how those are all the most simple ways we practice the skills whose processes we are unable to clearly define. However, when I first read this statement, I immediately thought of my studies in sociology and how relevant many of the terms are to this query. For example, social scripts are the rules that we seem to live by without knowing why or without knowing that we are following any at all. For instance, when a man opens the door for a woman, is he doing so because he genuinely wanted to help her or because he has been socialized to do so in a way that has affected only his subconscious? To stray from certain scripts such as a man opening a door and paying on the first date are considered wrong or out of the norm, but we are unable to really state a reason why and how this came to be.

I tend to believe that it does take cognitive ability and decision making processes to come to a conclusion about which social scripts are right for you (normative beliefs). However, I have a problem calling this “intelligence” as Schon does, because it is in human nature to develop normative beliefs and carry out social scripts based on our imitation and socialization techniques that are present since birth.

Another thought that came to mind when I read this passage was how deviations are common only because we are more likely to put a definition on them. When do we actually define what “normal” is in various situations? In most cases, we don’t, but there are multiple examples of what type of behavior, person, lifestyle, etc., are deviant from those social norms. This is a message that has really started to bother me as I take more and more classes in which I realize the problematic nature of such classifications.


In Jung’s article, she begins by introducing reflective writing as a learning activity for students to “become more aware of their own writing processes.”  She explains that instead of simply taking their teachers’ suggestions, reflective writing allows students to take a look at their writing as a unit, and critically analyze their work.

Jung goes on to discuss common critiques of reflective writing, one of which I find very relevant.  She explains that reflective writing is often looked at as “discursive appeals targeted to external audiences for specific purposes.”  Personally, when I do reflective writing assignments, I often feel that I am doing just that.  When I hand in and am asked to write reflective comments, I often find myself writing questions/comments based on what I feel that my reader wants to hear —  the substance of these comments are completely dependent on my audience.  However, Jung goes on to extend her discussion of the critiques of reflective writing.  The type of reflective writing that Jung refers to is slightly different than the kind that I have done for my own classes.  Rather than simply reflecting on writing by asking questions, Jung describes reflective writing as describing the writing process.  Once she defines reflective writing in her own terms, she goes on to explain the dichotomy between what should happen and what did happen.  Jung explains that persuasive reflective writing is writing that explains that author’s actual, rather than ideological, process.  The author explains what did happen as opposed to what should have happened.

Jung moves on and discussing actual theories behind reflective writing.  Important ideas she discusses include:

1.  Reflection as creating new knowledge — “reflection-in-action”

2.  The importance of describing the process of writing as a precursor to reflective writing

3.  Ideology as influencing writing

4.  How experience affects reflective writing

5.  The need to find new ways to write reflectively and descriptively

Jung concludes by discussing what “process description” should be.  Her argument is best summed up by the following:

“we should regard process descriptions as just that: descriptions of what happens when students write from their very real subject positions as students. Such descriptions would not try to account for students’ “appropriate” writerly development, attitudinal or otherwise. Nor would their purpose be to represent accurately authentic writing experience. Rather, by intentionally disarticulating their descriptive function from their explicit explanatory purpose, descriptions would emerge as sources of data in an ongoing inquiry to probe the mysteries of the phenomenon we call writing (along with those phenomena we don’t yet call writing but perhaps should).”


Reading the Jung article got me thinking about the nature of my own self-reflective comments.  While I feel that this activity has the potential to be useful, writing reflective comments typically results in me asking questions to myself that I think a teacher would ask when reading my paper.  These comments, therefore, end up being not about my writing process itself, but rather geared towards a specific audience and have little to do with my own original thought.  However, reading Jung’s article got me thinking — maybe the value in self reflective comments in the ability to reflect on the writing process itself instead of asking aesthetic questions about the final product.  With this in mind, I am going to try and incorporate this thinking into my reflective comments for the re-purposed draft!


The Yancey article really got me thinking about reflective comments and their purpose.  It definitely made me see a reason for putting them into every paper we’ve done so far in this class. I think it was most interesting to read this article from the perspective of a student who has been assigned reflective comments for a paper because he writes with the voice of a teacher speaking to other teachers.

I think that self-reflective comments serve many purposes. They allow the writer to voice some internal thoughts and reasons for doing certain things in their work.  This usually makes the writer feel more comfortable with their work.  I know that for our class, the self-reflective comments were something that most people said they enjoyed when asked during the mid-term assessment.  The reader (and normally the person assessing the paper) can have some clarity for possible confusion.

So why don’t more teachers take advantage of this?  Yancey touched a little bit on the fact that it is difficult for some teachers to allow their students to self-grade, which is understandable based on the fact that most students would give themselves an A.  However, having them place in comments on things that might not be working in their paper would be a great way to help guide discussions and begin a basis for grading.

I really enjoyed this article and if I were a teacher, I would definitely begin to employ a self-reflective comment feature to most of my assignments. Even though it isn’t required, I just might start doing that on my papers.

We can live like Jack and Sally if we want.

Halloween is (and always has been) my favorite holiday ever. I love Halloween like some people love Christmas, that is to say, I am entirely obsessed. I don’t think my house mates realized just how much I love Halloween until I decorated our entire house with lights, stuffed ghosts, signs, and pumpkins. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of candy in our “Candy Cauldron”. Not only have I had my costumes carefully planned for weeks (three of them), I have an entire duffle bag full of past costumes for my friends to borrow.
Why do I love Halloween so much? Well, yeah it’s great to get candy, but mostly I love Halloween for the same reasons I love writing. On Halloween, you get to use your imagination. You get to pretend to be someone your not. It’s not that I would want to be anyone else, but sometimes it is fun to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to live a life that is so far from your own. This Halloween, I got to be Sailor Moon, a Navy Seal, and Sookie Stackhouse, all which are extremely different, and extremely different from the everyday life of Joline Nichole Smith.
When I write, I get to be whatever character I create. I get to go on wild adventures, all with in the confines of my safe reality. Halloween is all about being scared, right? Well, what is scarier than living a life you aren’t used to? Being the characters in my writing, living out their adventures, is thrilling for me, but at the same time, it is comfortable because it is only pretend. When I finish that story, I get to go back to my mundane life. Similarly, when Halloween is over, I can take off my costume and just be myself again. It is a shame Halloween only comes around once a year, but I am lucky I have realized I can celebrate through my writing any day.

Evaluation as Carrot

The Yancy article got me thinking, do we all need evaluation as much as this article says we do? Yancy quotes one woman, a housewife, who cannot quantify her success as a parent without grades or salary increases, but wonders if she knows she has done a good job if she is simply exhausted at the end of the day. Yancy finds this alarming and recommends the use of self reflection to avoid students “… dependent on external rewards, not knowing where to begin to consider their own performances” (Yancy 13). This made me wonder, how dependent are we on external rewards like evaluation? Is evaluation our “carrot”  for doing things well, a motivation in itself?

Come get the carrot! Come get it! That's a good undergrad!

I blogged a little while ago about how much I wanted my Poetry professor to give us back our essays already so I could find out how I did. If anything is indicative of a dependence on external reward, that blog post probably is (I got a “B” by the way which is perfectly acceptable). I mean, I am a little over-excited by comments on my essays, even for the bad ones. Because otherwise, I really have no idea if my writing is any good or not.


As much as I don’t really agree with Yancy’s high estimation of self-reflection (we’re students, we’re not entirely qualified to make judgments about most writing because we are still learning, we obviously have incentive to absolutely love our own work, we all have a healthy sense of self-flagellation which makes us hate our own work, etc.) I definitely recognize this external locus of evaluation as problematic. An external locus of anything can be difficult to deal with, as the world is unlikely to continue to provide an exact measure of how well we are doing on each task we complete.

A+ on that batch of coffee Jill! Though next time, try not to drop the coffee filters, it ruins the overall effect of your piece.

Deciding the worth of the things you do on your own is actually pretty important, for the sake of continuing to do things, and for the sake of learning after people stop telling you what to learn. This can be applied in anywhere in life. It would be super-helpful if the Grand Poobah of Life, the Universe, and Everything would just reach down from the clouds and inform you that your last relationship is going to making you fail “Interpersonal Connections” unless you fix your communication problems and improve your loser-spotting skills in the next one. However, this is not the case. Honest self-evaluation is absolutely necessary for figuring out what you are doing that works, what you are doing that doesn’t work, and why.





Technology Presentation: Mapping

Mapping is a technology which uses maps as a  jumping off point for analyzing trends, and optimizing the route you take to go on a trip. Many of us use mapping every day with our extensive use of Mapquest, Google Maps, and GPS systems, as well as other Internet-based comprehensive maps. Also available are softwares like Microsoft MapPoint, where you can put data sets on a map in order to identify trends, maximize output, and track your company’s sales. Microsoft MapPoint is useful for businesses taking a closer look at different markets and demographics.



Microsoft MapPoint is available for North America and Western Europe currently and costs $299.95 to download or ship.

A similar software, available on University computers is called ArcView and Biomedware, though Biomedware focuses more on geography and the environment, and looking for relationships between the environment and health.

Mapping technologies you may be more familiar with include Mapquest:

On Mapquest and Google Maps, you can input an address and immediately find directions to that address, as well as restaurants, schools, and shopping in the area. Theses websites also have a rating system where users can comment on locations. Click and drag features help you customize your route.

Global Positioning System, or GPS,  ranges in price from $100 to$800. Some cars have GPS systems in the dashboard, as do motorcycles. Features include voice navigation, “Where Am I,” Bluetooth compatibility, and multiple street views.



Last week, my English 325 teacher gave my class a brief presentation about NELP (New England Literature Program), a University of Michigan academic program that takes place at Camp Wohelo on Sebago Lake in Maine during the spring semester. He talked about how NELP students and teachers live and work intimately during the program’s six and a half weeks, going camping and hiking and exploring the New England culture and countryside, all the while writing in journals about their experiences. Sounds awesome, right?


Here’s the catch: no technology. Read: no computers, basic electricity, and definitely no cell phones.


That was the most intimidating part for me. I love the outdoors, and was extremely intrigued by the prospect of climbing mountains, canoeing, and enjoying nature while using writing as a medium for understanding and enjoying the experience. Yet, how could I ever survive for six and a half weeks without checking my texts, e-mails and voicemails? I know, what an incredibly stupid question. But I think that in some way, we are all somewhat (and some more than others) connected, even dependent, on technology for feeling safe, comfortable and connected. Perhaps, then, a goal of NELP is to show how something like writing can make us feel safe, comfortable and connected with the world without the distractions of technology.


Have any of you ever participated in NELP, or thought about applying for it?

Assessment: Material vs. Value

After reading Yancey’s article, I decided to “assess” my homework progress for today. I think I’m doing fairly well considering I woke up at 1 in the afternoon. I had a quick breakfast, recapped the weekend with my roomies, packed my backpack, put on my new flats, and headed to my favorite study spot–Starbucks.

I decided to read the Yancey article before even turning on my computer. You’d be surprised how long it would have normally taken me to read a 5 page essay like this had I been tempted by Facebook and all the Halloweekend pics. And now here I am writing this post, essentially assessing Yancey’s writing.

I like how she opened her article by mentioning the “Mom Overboard” articles in the New Yorker. It frames her argument about self-assessment and the unfamiliarity of the process. “We are, she suggests, assessed in a material way.” I agree completely with this. We try hard in school so we can get good grades on our report cards, we strive for all A’s so we can be valedictorians, we want top-notch GPAs so we can get into prestigious universities. And once we are accepted into these prestigious universities, we pull all-nighters and study obsessively so we can get good jobs, make a lot of money, and have successful lives.

We are constantly assessing ourselves–through numbers and grades–everything quantitative. I see it as simply “checking off” the boxes in life, but where is the value in this? We are conditioned to think in terms of grades and, because of this, we fail to notice the meaning of our work.  As Yancey mentions, we need a way of determining if things are going well. Our own self-assessments and introspection may serve a larger role in the measure of our success than the letters scribbled on top of our papers.

One thing I hate about the current standard of grading (the material-based assessment) is the clear-cut letter/number grades but lack of reasoning behind the assessment. This type of grading is very subjective and varies depending on who’s grading your work. I recently got 99/100 on a take-home assignment. I should be happy with this high grade, but instead I am left wanting answers–why did I get one point deducted? Where did I go wrong? What’s the big difference between a 99/100 and a 100/100? Couldn’t the GSI just have given me the perfect grade? I’ll never know…

But if value-based assessment would have taken place in the situation above, I would probably have my questions answered. The self-reflective comments would give my GSI a look into my thought process and help facilitate a conversation between me and the GSI. This would help me see where I went wrong and how to improve my writing in the future. I agree with Yancey that this dialogue is essential to the writing process.


As I read through Schon’s “Teaching Artistry Through Reflection-in-Action,” I was trying to come up with a title that would ultimately sum up my interpretation of the reading. What I came up with was “readjusting.” To me, the act of problem solving comes down to this one very word. People act how they have learned to act either by rules, observation or other sources in the context of various situations, but what happens when we encounter an unexpected result? What if the intended outcome is not the actual outcome? We must learn to readjust not only our actions, but the way we think about a situation in order to actively pursue a solution.This requires what the article refers to as “reflection-in-action” or in other words, reflecting on one’s actions while they are occurring.

It is an interesting phenomenon that people can possess “knowing-in actions,” meaning actions that were once learned and are not forgotten, yet for the most part, the process of the teaching the action to another is difficult to do. The article uses riding a bicycle as an example. I can personally attest to the fact that once one learns how to ride a bike, even if they do not ride one for over a year, when they get back on their bike, they will be able to ride it. This summer, I lived in Chicago and was faced with the challenge of using different modes of transportation than I was used to from my suburban upbringing. I had not rode a bike the entire school year before this past summer, yet when I began to ride my bike to get to and from work, I was instantly capable of doing so.

The reflection process is simple to understand yet appears complex when written out in full detail. A primary component of active reflection requires “on-the-spot-experiment.” I looked at this experience as brainstorming innovative ideas to use when I come across an unexpected problem within whatever I am doing.

Schon’s article also brings up professional practice and how each different profession has its own set of practices, rules, characteristics, etc. that are specific to it. The article’s citings of an improv jazz musician group and of a good conversation flow really helped me to understand this point. Lastly, Schon also speaks of “practicums” or the place where a certain practice is applicable. If one recognizes the attitude and general feel of a particular practicum, they will be more likely to quickly pick up on some common or well-known practices within the said profession.