January 20, 2018

How Do I Get Better Grades on Discussion Forum Posts?

The Chatty Professor - Say this not that

How many of you out there take classes that require discussion forum posts and responses? Maybe you feel like this student: You think you’ve done well and then find out that your writing wasn’t strong enough.

Dear Chatty Professor,

I “beef up” my discussion forum responses as the professor asks, but still not receiving full points. Do you have any additional tips?

I definitely have tips!

1. First, ask the prof, “Professor, do you have a sample of what you consider to be an ideal post? It would be helpful for me to see what the students who are getting higher grades are doing.”

2. Along those same lines, a discussion forum rubric is another way to gauge what your prof is looking for. If your prof doesn’t have one, maybe you can say, “Would you be willing to let the students create a rubric and add this as an extra assignment?” (even extra credit?). I think having students create the criteria for what is considered a strong discussion forum post (with the prof’s guidance) could benefit everyone.

3. If you need to add more quantity, here are some pointers:

♦ First, if this is a response, make sure you directly comment on the original poster’s material. I tell my students “advance the conversation.” So, in essence, you take a look at the post of the person you’re responding to then you pull out something from their post that you can paraphrase and carry further. So, let’s say I’m writing that I disagree with AMC’s “Breaking Bad” leaving the air (I’m going to take a really light topic here, although an important one to me!). I discuss that it’s a wonderful show. It has won many awards. I also feel that the writers could take the storyline further and the show is being canceled prematurely.

Now, you respond: “Ellen, I really appreciated your comment about Breaking Bad being canceled (acknowledging the point of my comment). I see that you’re saying it should stay on the air because the writers can take the storyline further (paraphrasing my comment). You know, I have a different view on this: It seems that Hank is very close to finding out that Walt is really Heisenberg and, really, how much longer can this cat-and-mouse game continue? I also believe that the only way the writers could dramatize this show further is to bring back Walt’s lung cancer, and that would just appear to be a ploy to keep the show going.” In that response, you have taken my words and advanced them with your own ideas. Certainly, you’d keep writing to meet the line requirement outlined by your prof.

♦ Now, how to expand: Make sure you are telling and showing. I teach my students this all the time with respect to speech writing. It’s one thing to mention a fact or an idea (the “tell”), but you can “beef up” your content by giving examples and background about that fact, as well as your ideas and opinion. This is considered “showing” what you are “telling.”

Here is an example: Often, when my students do their career speeches, they might say, “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an accountant’s starting salary can range from the low $40,000s to the mid $60,000s.”

This singular statement “tells” the audience a fact. Here’s what happens when we add some “show” to it:

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an accountant’s starting salary can range from the low $40,000s to the mid $60,000s. My uncle, Joe Jones, who has been an accountant for the past five years, states that his salary started in the mid-$50,000s because he went to work for a very small company. He also knew that in his town, accountants just starting out didn’t earn quite as much. Later, Joe moved to a different state, joined a much larger organization, and his salary increased by about 40%.”

♦ Another way to expand: Go to your textbook for the topic, itself, and see what the authors are saying. Of course, you can’t lift material from the book–that would be plagiarism. However, you can cite the text (my students would get major points for that!) and then build on what the author is saying, whether you agree or disagree.

♦ Yet another way to expand: Go to the internet, then to your school’s library page, and do some additional research about the topic. Make sure you use credible sources. Then, once you find an article or two that would work, say, “I did some research and found this great article from…” At the end of your post, you can add the link.

♦ Just generally speaking, when your post seems too lean, keep asking yourself questions to expand: “Why?” and “How?” are a good start to help you continue to “show” what you know. Here are some other question prompts to help you as you read through your initial writing and strive to add more:

♦ What is the difference between?

♦ What is interesting or surprising to me?

♦ How can I tell?

♦ What is the reason ________ is this way?

Know that your prof wants to hear your voice! Therefore, he/she is giving you the space to share your knowledge and ideas in your posts. So, go for it!


About the Author: Ellen Bremen (17 Posts)

Ellen Bremen is tenured faculty at Highline Community College and the author of Say This, NOT That to Your Professor: 36 Talking Tips for College Success (NorLights Press, April 2012). Ellen stops at nothing to help students strengthen their communication skills: Peanut butter and jelly to illustrate problematic messages, pipe cleaners to teach communication models, and Post-it notes to reduce speaking anxiety. Ellen holds degrees in Post-Secondary Education and Communication. As an interpersonal communication expert, Ellen has watched students struggle to navigate their classes, especially their communication with professors. Ellen's goal? To help students correctly--not cluelessly--speak/deal with those who teach them. The outcome? Better student-prof relationships, improved grades, and confident and competent communication skills for college and beyond. Ellen's philosophy: College is THE safe training ground for students to practice and hone assertive and professional communication skills. Then, students can transition this sought-after skill to their professional and personal lives. Ellen looks forward to answering students' simple and complex questions about communication in college, and particularly professor-related challenges.

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