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Helping profs find just the right words in grading

You take a sip of wine. Your host asks, “How do you like it?” You say, “I like it” or “It’s not good.” You responded, but have you given good clues as to what you really meant?

Was your merlot “deliciously fruity with a hint of wood” or “too spicy and flowery” for your taste?

Grading writing by students is a lot like that, says Lisa Johnson-Shull, co-director of the WSU Writing Program. To help students communicate more effectively on each successive paper, professors could use a vocabulary that is clear yet descriptive enough to inspire change and growth.

So she’s offering a new workshop, “Wine Tasting as a Metaphor for Responding to Student Writing: Aroma Wheels, Rubrics and Other Frameworks of Noticing,” set for 2-4 p.m. Friday, May 8, in Webster Physical Science building’s 12th floor lounge.

The workshop is free and open to everyone age 21 and up, though space is limited, says Johnson-Shull; RSVPs are required to

or 335-5898.

Faculty who teach Writing in the Major courses would find the workshop appropriate. The Writing in the Disciplines unit within the Writing Program aids in the development and manages the review of more than 300 writing-intensive M courses across the disciplines.

“As workshops go, I believe this one is as useful as it is unique…and the atmosphere is convivial,” Johnson-Shull says. Participants will taste wines and describe them, then receive tips and tools to enhance their evaluations and help them refine what they mean.

“We give them what I call a ‘framework for noticing’ and it can be both illuminating and expanding,” she says. It is also applicable to other situations where full-bodied descriptions are more helpful, such as in evaluating students’ writing.

Johnson-Shull has tried out the wine-tasting-as-metaphor format twice before with graduate students and once at a conference for writing professionals in New Orleans. 

“It has proven to be informative as well as fun and creative, and participants have had very good discussions about how those who grade writing might boost the impact of their efforts by simply choosing the right words,” she says.

The May 8 event will be the first time the workshop is open to a wider audience at WSU. It is the annual spring workshop sponsored by the Writing in the Disciplines team.

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