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Students Encouraged in College Essay Writing Workshops

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Seniors taking Expository Writing had the unique opportunity to participate in College Essay Writing Workshops last week.

Working in small groups, with several O’Dowd faculty and staff members facilitating, the students received thorough and thoughtful feedback on initial drafts of their college essays.

Each student had the chance to hear his/her essay read aloud by a fellow student. Then each student was provided written and oral feedback. The goal was to have each student walk away from the exercise with constructive comments to make their essays shine.

Courtney O’Callaghan ’18 found the process extremely helpful.

“I really enjoyed the workshop! Having my peers go over my essay really opened my eyes to my strengths and weaknesses in writing and how I could use this knowledge to my advantage and make my college essay interesting and fun. With the help of my peers I am much more confidant in my essay and where it is going,” she said.

English teacher Kate Cunnane said the workshop process allows students to float ideas they may be unsure about and get feedback from their classmates to see if they’re working.

“There is so much pressure in the college essay to have that perfect topic, and often students need a sounding board to decide which part of their life stories they want to tell. In the workshop, writers are able to steer the conversation to make sure they get the specific feedback they are looking for,” she added.

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The peer-to-peer interaction is invaluable, Cunnane said.

“It’s amazing to hear how much students know about good writing by listening to their feedback for each other. Students give great advice about everything from storytelling to organization to figurative language, and being able to offer their expertise reinforces their own skills. And hearing that feedback from a peer can be way more powerful than seeing it scrawled in the margins by your teacher!” she said.

Head Librarian Annette Counts, a workshop facilitator, said that of the things she liked most about the process was the amount of critical thinking required of all the participants.

“Writers had to determine what focus they wanted the readers to have, and readers had to read with a careful eye to give constructive and specific criticism. I was impressed with all participants’ ability to recognize the personal and powerful nature of each essay and to suggest specific ways to increase the impact of the essay,” she said. “Besides providing effective feedback on each essay, the workshop served as a great way for members to get to know each other. We all went away from the workshop experience with an appreciation of each member’s accomplishments and challenges. It was a lovely and worthwhile experience.”


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