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Thank you for supporting our students as they learn to write with authentic readers in mind. The writing assigned in courses often feels like a grade-focused transaction between student and instructor. But good writing requires more than just putting facts and thoughts on paper. To become impactful writers students first have to understand the needs and expectations of readers; and these vary widely depending on the context, field, and genre. As a reader mentor, your feedback will aid students learn how to revise their writing to make it more effective and engaging for the intended audience. Your engagement can play a direct role in our students’ development of communication and reasoning skills essential for success in their professional and civic lives. You, as expert in your profession, can uniquely lend guidance and advice to help students become effective and impactful writers.
COMMITMENT: Your time commitment will be about 5 hours during the entire semester. We generally expect students and readers to have at the least one meeting where you introduce each other and determine whether you both want to go forward with your collaboration. Should you decide to work together, I suggest discussing the course expectations for the writing assignment. We highly recommend that you and your student agree on a timeline for your interactions, i.e. when the student will submit drafts and how fast they can expect your feedback. Upon reviewing drafts and commenting you should schedule a live interaction where you will discuss your written or recorded feedback, answer student questions, and talk about other concerns the student may have in the context of their course.
FEEDBACK: As Reader Project volunteer, it is important that you are not proof-reading or copy editing. Instead, your task is to provide an authentic response to the student’s draft from your perspective as a professional with content area expertise and writing genre knowledge. You are a “friendly reader”, someone who takes the work seriously however messy the draft. Your role here is to help the student understand what works for you as a professional familiar with the subject matter and the type of writing, as you bring insight into the conventions of the field. You will explain to the student where their paper is interesting and engaging and what doesn’t work and why. It is then the student’s job to revise and edit their work while taking your feedback into account. In other words, the goal is to improve the writer more so than the paper.
Students are sometimes nervous about sharing work-in-progress. Please be patient as they learn the skill of receiving constructive feedback before they submit the paper to their professor. And please, always keep your student’s work private.
To learn more about the kind of feedback we want readers to give, please see our document How to Give Feedback. You can also reach out to the Project Coordinator for additional guidance.
GOOD TO KNOW: While Duke students are generally very motivated and keen to take advantage of mentoring relationships, some end up overextending themselves. Courses are very challenging and often require much more work than students had expected. Most students take four courses per semester, that means they have to learn to pace themselves and manage their time wisely. Time management is a skill that many students have yet to learn, that’s why it sometimes happens that students submit their drafts with very short notice. In your introductory meeting please make sure that you tell the student your availability and make a schedule for your interactions, even holding students accountable.
Also, Duke students are overall very competent and respectful. But being professional is another skill that many have yet to learn. Most students will be up-front and honest about changes in their priorities and needs. There are always a few who drop out without any notice, leaving the reader mentor wondering and even disappointed. As this is a voluntary opportunity, there is nothing we can do about this. When signing up, students are reminded that they need to get and stay in touch with their mentor and act gracefully and honestly. Should your student be uncommunicative, please get in touch with us immediately. Depending on when in the semester this happens, we may be able to reassign you, or at least find out from the student or their professor what is going on.
As a READER, what do I need to consider when giving feedback and priorities for interactions?
Leave the work in the student’s hands. Please, do not use editing tools such as “Track Changes”. They are not suited to help students become better writers since students can be tempted to passively accept your suggested changes rather than deciding for themselves which changes to make. Students will learn more if you can help them recognize where changes are needed, rather than doing the changing for them.
Share your thoughts, describe your reactions to what you read. Let the student know where you can follow the ideas and where you get lost; where you’re engaged and where you’re bored, confused, or frustrated; where you find an argument compelling and where you’re skeptical. It’s fine to do this without suggesting specific changes to address those issues. In fact, that’s what we expect you to do most of the time. That said, there will be many occasions where students will benefit from your advice.
Give advice where it seems warranted, but try to do so in terms of principles students can apply in the future, rather than as fixes to specific problems in their paper. For example, instead of: “You should insert a sentence here that says…,” try this: “When I read this kind of paper, I want to see an explicit statement of the question or problem that will be addressed so I can understand where the paper is headed. What would that statement be in your paper?”
Let students know what’s working. While you will want to let students know about difficulties you have trying to make sense of their drafts, you should also let them know what’s good. These comments will encourage them to keep doing the things they’re doing well. Even brief comments such as “This is clear” or “I’m following you here” or “That’s pretty convincing” give students valuable information.
Your expertise may not be needed each semester. The Reader Project does not determine which courses are offered. Instructors participate with their writing intensive courses on a voluntary basis. Students only participate if they want to. We act as intermediary, connecting you, our volunteer readers, with our students. We are, however, thankful for having you among our expert readers.