Friday, October 03, 2014

I Don't Know

In my writing class, a student asks if zie needs to put issues 1-7 in hir paper.

"I don't know," I say.  And then I add, "you won't know until you've done some research and figured out if issues 1-7 are interesting and worth talking about in your paper."

The student insisted, and I said basically the same thing, that zie needs to learn about issues 1-7 in order to know if they're important enough to be included.  But, zie worries, there are 7 things.  Yes, there are.  Research takes time.

Zie is pissed off at me.  Again.

Zie wants me to tell hir that no, zie won't need 2-7, and can get by with a cursory glance at 1, or something.  Or wants me to tell hir that #4 is the one.  But it's not my paper, and I haven't done the research, so I really don't know.

I think that's really hard for this student to understand that zie is writing a paper that actually isn't going to be read by someone who already knows the answer, but by someone who's going to read for real.

It's like doing real research of any kind: you have ideas about what might be important or about how things will turn out, but you don't know until you've actually done the research.  And it takes time.  This isn't me being mean in withholding information, but me actually not knowing.


  1. "...someone who's going to read for real."

    Yes, this. It's a main goal of mine, in every writing class I teach, to get that point through to them: that writing is not just an exercise they have to do to make the teacher happy; that we write for a real reason, in the real world.

    It's why I hate the questions "How long should this be?" and "How many sources should I have?"

    Jeez. As many as you need. As long as it takes you to make your point and support it. Write until you're done. Then stop.

  2. Anonymous12:17 PM

    Sigh.... Yep... We hear this a LOT in the library (I've just hoped that maybe they're not actually saying this to their professors, but I guess not!).

    I had a student once where we only had a grand total of 15 articles related to their topic TOTAL in ALL OF OUR DATABASES at the time, and they still wanted me to tell them which articles to use. Um, if there's only 15, I think you've got time to read them, or at least look over them well and read all of the abstracts. That's what's hilarious to me. The students for whom we've not been able to narrow their searches down as much as we'd like, where there's still several hundred articles, and I have to turn them loose saying "Why don't you take a look at some of these and see if you find some more keywords or subject headings in the best of them?" - they aren't the ones who ask. It's always the students where we've gotten it narrowed down nicely to a reasonable number of articles for them to look over, and they still just look at me like "but I thought you were supposed to do all the work for me?"

    1. Anonymous2:06 PM

      This this this. Also, from the other end, as a subject librarian I get students who want me to provide them with ALL THE POSSIBLE PRIMARY SOURCES on HUGE topics so that they don't have to do any actual searching and can just pick and choose from a preselected list. This especially concerns me when they're grad students.

      I taught for a biggish lower-level class this semester where they've been given guidelines like "pick one primary source, write about it, use at least two scholarly sources for context." I spent a lot of time with one student convincing her that she wasn't *limited* to just two sources, and that she might end up not wanting to use the first primary source she chose. I think she found all that liberating, but it was interesting to see the effect that using numbers like that can have. Don't mean that at all as a criticism of the assignment, which was actually a really good assignment, very well thought out. I think it can be easy for students to latch onto the numbers and worry about going past them, or discovering more interesting things, etc.

  3. Getting them to take ownership of their own work is definitely work in itself, sometimes very hard work. And yes, this sounds familiar to me, too -- there are probably only a few students per semester who do this, and they probably do it for differing reasons, but it definitely takes energy to keep turning the decisions back to them.

  4. Anonymous1:26 PM

    I was going to say something intelligent here, but as I scrolled down, I noticed that Clarissa's blog is in your blogroll and she's complaining about use of non-sexist language. I cannot handle even reading the headlines of her articles. If you disappear from our blogroll it isn't anything personal, just that even seeing the titles for her blog articles raises my blood pressure from time to time.

    1. Hi N&M, I'm a little confused, but if you want to take me off your blogroll because you can't skim over Clarissa's titles in my blogroll and are so offended by them that you have to take my blog off your roll, I can live with that. I do enjoy your blog, but wouldn't hold you responsible if you changed your blogroll and someone's title bothered me. I added Clarissa recently because she's part of the community who comments here and I'm happy to have her and to read her blog, too.