The Life of a Wannabe Academic

Detail of the life a new academic. The progress from graduate training to professor. Includes reflections on the job hunting process, research in technology and education, and what it is like to be a new college professor.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Writing as a process means more work for me

I usually have a few short (2-3 page) papers that I expect students to write in my classes. I require this not because I enjoy seeing students suffer (though they may feel that way). No, I do this because I am a believer that writing ability is not something that should be only practiced during one semester of composition class.

When I taught at a state university I would typically get complaints from students that they should not be required to write in anything but an English class. One written complaint even said that they were required to do more writing in my Ed. Psych class than in their Freshman Comp. class (a pretty sad state if that is true becuase there were only 2 papers in my Ed. Psych class!).

However, at my current school (small, private college) I do not get these least they aren't directed at me. Additionally, our school encourages a "writing across the curriculum" mindset. As such I have found less complaining toward my assigned papers and more toward how I choose to grade said papers.

Becuase of some comments that students did not understand my grading scheme, I have decided to take a new approach to the first couple of papers in my classes. I am giving more detailed descriptions (so detailed that I tell students that they must write an introduction and a conclusion....something I would have thought they should be aware of) and giving them an opportunity to revise their first 2 papers for a higher grade.

It goes like this....students get the paper assignment, I get them back, write a bunch of comments (good and bad), assign a grade, hand the paper back, describe to the class common mistakes, and then allow students to revise and resubmit for re-grading. I must say that I was aware at some level how much work this would require on my part (several hours of intense writing and thinking of more useful feedback than simply writing a question mark in the margin). I was hoping though that it would be worth it.

What I found was, HOLY COW IT WORKED! My developmental psychology class handed in their second paper last week and I have finished grading them (the first draft). I used just as critical an eye as the first paper and the average grade in the class rose by a whole letter grade! I hope that the students are seeing these improvements in themselves as well. I've let them know how happy I am that I have seen the improvements, I just hope they see it as well.

I took on this approach for two major reasons beyond the comments I received from students last year. 1) I had several issues with plagiarism that I felt could be addressed by allowing a revise and resubmit policy on the first couple of papers. 2) I realized that I did not really learn to write well until I was in grad school where our major projects (thesis and dissertation) is really writing by revision and resubmission.

I understand that this takes a lot of time and effort on my part, and when I do this again with two sections of developmental I'll likely hate the policy. But I think that it is a positive step in my students' development in writing ability. I'm going to elicit comments from my students after this second paper to see what their opinion is on this policy. Hopefully they will give some meaningful input on ths for me. I think the response will be positive, but I've been surprised before.


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