Sunday, March 22, 2009

Grading Question

I'm grading essays about the liberal arts and such for my writing class. Several of the students have written that, basically, they're lazy, so that's why we should have requirements. Alas, so far, each of these essays is underdeveloped with minimal thought to why someone should force them to get an education and what requirements they think are important.

It's difficult not to write in my little note that their laziness shows in the essay they've written.

I wonder if they even think about that when they write about how lazy they are?


  1. I have two reactions. The first is visceral: I simply can't believe what some students will blithely confess (or boast about, or use as an excuse) (the student in a lit class who proudly--looking about to be admired for daring--announces on the first day that he or she hates reading; the student who halfway through the semester excuses unsubmitted work due to the sudden realization that she or he bought the wrong textbook nine weeks previously; the student who explains improperly done work due to not listening in class and not reading the assignment directions).

    Second, in terms of comments, I'd likely restrain my tone but clearly point out that the essays beg the question; they don't answer why courses are or should be required, instead only asserting that the students wouldn't study the topic absent compulsion.

  2. is there some way to do a followup discussion -- naming no names, but there are some themes here -- and then assign a followup essay? the liberal arts are supposed to teach critical thinking, coherent writing and analysis, along with other skills. i think discussions are useful for prodding students to think -- it's not just some authority figure tossing out ideas, after all.

    nobody is forcing the students to get an education. pressure from relatives doesn't count as "force" -- they are adults, and if they don't want to be there, they can join the workforce and support themselves.

    what, they don't qualify for well-paying jobs? don't want to flip burgers? think they'll have trouble getting even a low-paying job in these economic times?

    is any of that going to really change if they spend their college years messing around and not gaining any skills? how are they going to be hired anywhere, if they think that comprehensible writing is for chumps, and trumpet their own laziness? do any of them think of going on to graduate education? being able to critically evaluation a question and effectively discuss it are requirements in every field.

    last spring, my brilliant lovely daughter flunked her required freshman writing class, due to laziness. i had not one shred of sympathy for the argument that she doesn't need it and the requirement is stupid. she needs the practice; she needs refinement; she needs to develop depth in her thinking and writing. so, she is back for a second chance this spring quarter.

  3. p.s. -- a fair portion of my legal work has been reviewing and editing briefs drafted by others. it is almost physically painful to need to tell lawyers that they must write complete sentences; that they must support assertions with references to law and facts; that their arguments need to include reasoning, and cannot work if they are circular; etc.

    from my point of view, adequate writing is the cornerstone. the future of humanity depends on it. trying to teach old dogs tricks they should have learned years earlier is the most thankless enterprise.

  4. Is this a first-year course? I ask because it may be that they have never had a teacher before you jump up and down and shout, "Stop telling me what you think I want to hear, and tell me what you THINK!" I realize that I work with much younger folks than you do, but I often get similarly scripted answers when I ask "why do we X?"

    Somewhere, somebody taught them that being asked a question by a person "in charge" means that you answer with:
    Because (I am/ kids are/ students are) inherently (negative adjective)and we should deny our own (wishes/ thoughts/ intellect) in order to (show respect for/ blindly obey) our (parent/ teacher/ boss) beacause s/he (has our best interests at heart/ is smarter than we are/ will punish us if we don't). Therefore, I have shown my deference to you, O Question-asking Authority, and will expect my (cookie/ A/ paycheck) whenever you get around to giving it to me.

    Or, as kathy a. said above, they are approaching the whole situation as children rather than adults.

  5. Situations like this make me lean toward love in my love-hate relationship with the rubric. At its ugliest, the rubric feels too standardized and allows students to write for a simple checklist. But at its most useful, the rubric handles grading ethics like this with grace. I encounter the same real-life dramatic irony with my students, too. It caused me to create sections of my rubric geared toward measuring/assessing depth of thought and strength of supporting arguments.
    I truly feel torn about rubrics, though. How do you feel about them?