In this section, Prof. Haynes Miller and Susan Ruff describe how students receive feedback on their writing and what is expected from students during the revision process.
Feedback and revision are critical to students’ development as mathematical writers in the course. For each project, each student team is required to write a first draft, meet with course instructors for a debriefing meeting, make revisions, and submit a final draft. This process provides an opportunity for a mid-project check-in about the students’ writing as well as their research, and it pushes them to produce a stronger final draft than what most could have managed on their own.
In the best situations, a team’s first draft represents the students’ best efforts but is still somewhat rough; we give them lots of feedback for reworking their paper, and their final draft is substantially clearer and more rigorous, well-motivated, and technically precise. In our experience, each subsequent paper is typically better than the one before.
Instructor Feedback on Writing
After a team submits its first draft, the team’s mentor for that project, and sometimes Haynes and sometimes Susan, reads the paper and crafts feedback. First drafts typically have plenty of room for improvement. We try not to overwhelm students with a huge number of comments; commenting on everything often leads to students getting lost in the details and unable to distinguish the most important points from more trivial points. Instead, we draw attention to the most important things for the students to improve. We try to craft constructive comments so that, rather than being discouraged, students will be inspired to revise. Sometimes a second round of revision is necessary. This whole process is quite like the refereeing process for journal articles.
Students receive feedback on their draft at a team debriefing meeting, which usually occurs several days after the first draft is submitted. Sharing feedback via the debriefing meeting provides two key advantages:
- Clarity and emphasis via discussion. Speaking face-to-face allows us to emphasize the most important feedback; to ask students questions and understand the intentions behind their writing; and to have some back-and-forth to make sure that students understand the feedback.
- Efficiency. Reading papers and commenting on papers takes a long time. The debriefings allow us to convey some of the feedback efficiently in person rather than on paper.
Most students take the debriefing sessions very seriously. They do not see our feedback on their work beforehand, and they are naturally curious and may be somewhat anxious, especially the first time. The face-to-face interaction always helps to frame suggestions in a constructive manner, and students almost never respond defensively. They generally listen attentively and make a sincere effort to respond to our critiques.
Immediately after the debriefings, we scan the marked-up papers and send an electronic copy to the team members. The final draft is typically due a week after the debriefing, giving students time to think about research extensions of their work and to improve their writing.
Self- and Peer-Editing
One of the things we look for in papers for the course is consistency of voice and notation among sections written by different team members. We encourage the students to help each other revise.