Friday, April 15, 2016

Helpless Student - Vent

In one of my courses, students turned in a big assignment today.  We spent much of our last class session going over the assignment, looking at the rubric, and then having them make revision notes.  (This was after peer revision the session before.  This is an important assignment.)

So I walk into class early, and one of the students comes up and says something along the lines of "You know how you told us that [x needed to be done]?  I didn't do it."

And I looked at the student and said, "I can't do it for you."  Which was true.  Of course, they wanted me to say "Oh, don't worry, it's okay."  But I didn't, because it's really not so okay (though, honestly, it's also not the end of the world.

When class started, I set them to doing final proofreading, at which point this same student said, "Remember how you told us to put our citations in alphabetical order?  I didn't."  And waved their "Works Cited Page" vaguely.  It's in quotation marks because while they thought it was a works cited page, it wasn't, really.  It was just a list of web urls.

So I told them that they hadn't cited correctly, and that they should remember that we talked about that, and I had shown them how to use OWL at Purdue, and I reminded them of the rubric part about formatting, proofreading, and such being acceptable in order to pass, and theirs wasn't. 

The thing is, they can make neat corrections in ink or pencil during the proofreading process, and they had 30 minutes to do that, so it wasn't just me being mean.

So the student sort of whined that they had tried but couldn't find authors, so I said that OWL at Purdue could tell them how to do the works cited when they don't have authors.

The student whined and said that they couldn't figure out how to cite using OWL, holding their laptop open three or four feet away, and I said that I couldn't read what was on their laptop, but that they might want to look for how to cite electronic sources.

And the student looked, and said that OWL said to put media, so should they put "internet" and I asked them what the model showed, because as a Shakespeare person, I always have to look up how to cite internet sources, which is why I know about OWL.  And they looked, and no, it didn't.  And then they asked if they should do what OWL said.  At that point, my inside brain wanted to yell at the student, but I merely said, yes, please, and answered another student's question.

Then the student whined that they couldn't write all the information down, and I suggested that what I'd do is retype the page and print it out again, since they still had 20 minutes or so.

So the student types.  And types.  Which is fine, because other folks are making corrections, too.

By the time the student finished, everyone else had finished and gone.  And the student whined that they didn't have paper to print out.  Nor, of course, did I. 

Finally, I let the student email me just that page.  Except they just copied and pasted so it looks crappy and improperly formatted.

The upshot is, I feel like a failure.  This student needed their butt kicked, and I let them get away with being whiny and incompetent, helpless.  It's not that I want the student to feel horrible or anything, because seriously, formatting a paper isn't a life or death thing for me.  But I do want them to realize that they need to do their work and be prepared, because sometimes it really does matter.


In other news, I have some super colleagues.  That is all.  :)


  1. I've started just giving unacceptable work back to them. "This isn't correct MLA format," I write on it. "Check your handbook and do it again."

    Repeat as necessary, and refuse to grade the work until it's right.

    Now -- mind you -- I can only do this because I won't grade a paper until it's right, and I tell them that upfront. If you don't use that approach to grading, IDK if this will work for you.

  2. Wait, how did my student end up in your class?

    All semester I kept trying to get this student to fix the format on his Works Cited (which had BULLETS on it and funny little abbreviations all over the place), but he kept shrugging it off. I took off points and wrote pointed comments, but nothing changed. Then on the most recent paper, I told him I wouldn't even look at his draft until he fixed the Works Cited, and he said, "Oh, I must have looked at a different MLA format." Right.

  3. Aaargh, WHY is "look up an example of a citation of this type of source in the documentation style you intend to use, and make yours look just like it" so difficult for students? I can't for the life of me even figure out where the stumbling blocks are, in most cases.

  4. I don't think you were a failure! The student may have whined, but you didn't say, "Oh, that's okay, Works Cited doesn't really matter all that much." Yes, you explained how to do it again, but you didn't do the work for the student; you made him/her do the work. Clearly not a pleasant experience for either of you, but not a failure!

  5. It's not hard, but it is fiddling, boring, detailed work, and they'd rather not bother with it. (Who can blame them? The worst part of my dissertation was writing the bibliography!) If they *can* get us to take crap work, they will -- or at least many of them will.

    In other news, though, there any many programs now that will write the Works Cited page / bibliography for them. Many Words programs come with one built in -- it's up there on the tool bar, under References.

    I am torn as to whether I should point this out to my students or not.

  6. I think they're having increasing difficulty for at least two somewhat-interconnecting reasons:

    --Many of them do, in fact, use citation generators of one sort or another, either of their own accord or because they've been instructed to do so at some point, and they therefore consider constructing correct citations some sort of incredibly arcane, complicated process that only a sophisticated algorithm can complete, not something a reasonably-bright fifth grader should be able to do with a reasonable degree of accuracy.

    --Most of them have encountered at least one high school teacher who was a stickler for technicalities, and didn't make much of a distinction between outright plagiarism and minor formatting issues with citation. So they're nervous. Very, very nervous.

    So they use a citation generator, or cut and paste from the database's "how to cite" this article model, without realizing that something was wrong in one of the fields of the database and/or the algorithm behind the citation generator, and have no idea that they could actually check the work of the citation generator, or fix the mismatched fonts or all-uppercase bits, or do something about the "n.d."s scattered liberally throughout the bibliography entry (because scholarly articles are often published with no date -- right?).

    In short, they think the whole thing is much more complicated than it is, and we who learned the process by painstakingly handwriting bibliography index cards sometime in elementary school shake our heads and wonder why in the world they can't manage such as simple task. And we're sort of right, but need to demystify it (and occasionally even say "c'mon; this isn't hard; I was doing it in fifth grade!").