Thursday, May 08, 2008

Worrying about Precedent

I've been holding office hours for the past several days, and then last week (before a big four day weekend here). The final papers are due tomorrow, so things are down to the wire.

A good number of the students I've talked to this week have been fine tuning the works cited page, checking that they're explaining examples well enough, and so forth. A couple have seen me more than once this week, getting suggestions, revising, and then checking with me again to make sure they did the work well. They've worked hard, and it shows in their essays.

But a couple papers are looking like disasters. I'm especially worried about one student.

I try to be very up front and honest during office hours when I'm concerned about a paper, and I was with this student. I told hir that I was concerned with the length of the paper so far, with the lack of research, and so forth. Pretty much the same thing I told hir last week, when s/he came to just check on some research questions, but hadn't started actually writing yet. (Despite the fact that we had two peer editing sessions. Not really impressive.)

I was going to come home and blog about the students I've been seeing, how hard some are working, and how some aren't working hard enough, and leave it at that. But then I got to thinking, and that's always dangerous.

We started brainstorming last week for questions for the final; I asked them to make a list of things they'd learned, and then brainstorm as a group and we put the lists up on the board, so that they could try writing a question that would elicit a response that would show how much a student had learned. And during that process, my student mentioned that the thing s/he had learned was that s/he needed to revise essays. (Indeed, this student has revised the first two essays with good results.)

But tonight I'm thinking, uh oh.

You see, when I wrote up the syllabus, I hadn't intended to have students revise essays after they were graded. I had good reasons for that thought, but once I'd graded the first set of essays, I felt that the students were likely to learn a lot by revising, and that they were less prepared for the work than I'd anticipated. So, I encouraged students to revise their essays, met with them about revisions, and regraded the essays. A number of students worked impressively hard and did really solid revision work.

(One of those students, in fact, talking to me today for the second time this week, said that he really wanted this paper to be good because he'd been quite disappointed by his early grades, and wanted this paper to be better. [His hard work shows, too.])

The point is, though, that I hadn't written a revision policy into the syllabus, so there's also nothing written into the syllabus to say that there won't be time to revise the final essay. But realistically, there just isn't time for me to grade them, for the students to revise them, and for me to regrade them.

But now I'm worried that the student who has learned that revision is important is counting on having an opportunity to revise hir final essay, and that maybe that's why hir draft so far is so weak.


  1. Is is possible to let those who would like to revise turn it in early?

  2. Oh, good idea! And it would work if the essay weren't due today...