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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

They Shake Their Heads And Look At Me As If I Lost My Mind

Posted by Seeking Solace |

I wrote this post in which I talked about writing assignments and whether you expect some basic level of proficiency, mainly that the student can write in basic English. I'm only asking that they write in complete sentences, proofread their work for spelling and grammar mistakes and don't use text speak. I do grade those assignments on grammar, spelling and mechanics, but I don't put a ton of weight on that portion of the grade.

Today, I was told by a faculty colleague that I should not grade my students on whether or not they use proper grammar, spelling and mechanics...at all. As long as the student gets the content, that's all that matters. Besides, it's not our job to correct their mistakes in writing.

Um...what?

This is not the first time I have heard this since starting at New Job. There seems to be a consensus among faculty that so long as one the student can explain the content, it's all good. We are wasting out time dealing with writing issues. Send them to the writing center.

Again....what?

I am not asking my students to write prose. But, I do expect them to communicate properly. I cannot, in good conscious, ignore a student's work that has good content, but poor grammar or spelling. I mean, we have spell check and grammar check! Sure, they don't catch everything, but at least one can pick up most mistakes just by clicking on an icon. I want my students to know that such skills are expected and required, in the real world. If I have a student with writing problems, I will work with them or send the for required tutoring. I will do what I can to help them become better writers which will allow them to be better students.

I spent the afternoon walking around in a funk over this. I just can't imagine not caring about how my students present their work. I goes against everything I know and everything I believe. What's worse is that I can't seem to find anyone who agrees with me. Everyone seems to think I have lost my mind. Just teach the material and don't worry about the other stuff.

Sorry, if I did that, I wouldn't be doing my job. And, I would be doing my students a disservice.

15 comments:

D.M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scrivener said...

How do your colleagues so blithely separate form from content? If the students can't write comprehensible sentences about the subject matter, then they can't really be said to understand the subject matter.

Seeking Solace said...

That is something I don't understand. The philosphy at this college is to get them in and get them out as fast as possible. Sure, it's good for retention, but in the long run, it makes the school look bad because they are producing grads who can't compete.

Shell said...

Treat it as clarity to get around it. Criticize the content for lack of coherence. The underlying problem/cause is still there, but if they don't want it labeled, whatever.

this sounds disturbingly like some of the stories I've heard from some colleagues who have taught for a well known exclusively online institution.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

You have a difficult line to walk -- because you have a short course. I don't know what the local schools are like there -- but, up here where they are supposed to be good, my students have trouble communicating in writing.

On one hand, you have a campus culture that doesn't seem to expect high standards -- on the other hand, you have high standards and are an ethical prof.

Maybe the compromise is to have a pretty loose standard for grammar etc.. BUT, have a maximum number of errors (or kinds of errors) you will permit before you return the paper to them un-graded.

Gather the information for their writing support -- and get them linked up to the Purdue OWL website, which has good help with citations and other technical details. Then tell them that it is their responsibility to KNOW that their papers are correct. If they choose not to do so, you won't read their paper.

Then, give them a deadline by which they need to correct ALL the errors (not just the examples of the mistakes you point out). They should plan to get their papers checked by the writing center before they submit them to you-- They should also submit their original paper with the revision. IF you find errors of the same kind, or of other kinds, you'll grade them no higher than a D -- regardless of the content.

Doing a short course makes this more complicated, but it is still possible if you have good turn-around on the first set of papers.

You could do this with just the first paper -- under the theory that they really don't know they are making mistakes and need an opportunity to correct them.

I've recently done this with two ethics classes -- and MANY students thanked me -- both students who had papers returned ungraded AND students who didn't have significant errors. All said they appreciated the extra work it took on my part and the opportunity (push..) do do it properly.

I think the key is to a) warn them the papers could come back, and then return them with a 'I like you and I just can't let you turn in something like this..' posture. Any irritation and they'll get defensive -- but, if you tell them that you can't, in good conscious, permit them to continue without knowing how to do these things -- they'll love you.

rented life said...

This is NOT just limited to your New School. When I was at local R1 I was told the same thing---yes, at a major R1 uni! In fact, the instructor I was TA for would often change the grades I entered because he felt I was too harsh. I was told the same thing at Private College. (And knowing what my students there were going to go do for a living, that should bother you!) I noticed that when I read letters of colleagues there that they wrote just as poorly as their students.

rented life said...

I should add, in undergrad I had a prof who took off a half a point for every grammer/typo/etc mistake. That added up quick and we learned as a class to look over our stuff--especially when an A paper gets a B grade from that!

Sherlock said...

All schools have writing centers and many schools contract with smarthinking. Whichever is the case at your school, make it a requirement for students who need writing help to use those resources and to submit the paperwork from the resource along with their final copy of the paper.

I do peer reviews on drafts AND make them use the writing center tutors. It makes a world of difference when they can proofread someone else's paper. They see mistakes like the ones on their own paper but just don't realize they're making those errors.

It's all a learning process and you can't expect perfection in one course. You can and should expect individual improvement throughout the course, but you'll never get perfect papers in just one short course.

And for the record, it's not online universities. It's EVERY school EVERYwhere these days. Don't blame it on online schools.

The online schools I've worked for all contract with smarthinking or have free tutoring services in the school's writing center. And, in fact, my online students write far better than my on-campus students.

RageyOne said...

I can agree with that notion at all. As an educator, one should be concerned about the whole being not just bits and pieces. Yes, we may specialize in one particular area and want the student to succeed in that area, but not at the expense of another. That doesn't lead to success overall.

Shell said...

@ Sherlock, I don't know if someone else in the thread mentioned exclusive online schools or if your record comment was directed at me, but my comment was pretty specific in observing that SS's experience sounded like some of the stories I have heard from colleagues who have taught locally at an online U which is well known (Phoenix).

My comment, while not intended to stereotype all online Us, was to share my own limited knowledge and the people I know who have experienced this had THAT experience.

Shell said...

SS: good luck with this.

Astroprof said...

Students always complain when I correct spelling and grammar. They say that it doesn't matter and I should be grading on content alone, like all their other professors. (I am not sure who these other professors are, since most other faculty members that I talk to complain that students complain about their insistence on good writing skills, too.)

When I was in graduate school, my major professor taught a class where we had to write and give an hour long lecture. He really nailed us on any errors. His philosophy was that science was not science unless it was effectively communicated to other scientists. The key was the effective communication. That means being able to write and speak in such a way as to get your point across without any ambiguity. That means that you have to get the spelling and grammar right, since misspelling can lead to confusion as to what word you mean, and poor grammar can lead to confusion in what you are saying.

So, stick to you guns as much as you can. These kids need to learn to be able to write if they are to succeed.

Sherlock said...

Hi Shell, I do realize that there are far too many schools like that however I don't think that online or not has anything to do with it. Also UoP has not been an exclusively online school for many years (there's even a campus near where I live now) and some of the campus programs are just as bad (it all depends on the administrative personnel at each online campus).

I've taught for both on-campus and online programs that were all about retention to the exclusion of effective learning. Needless to say I didn't last long at places like that!

I'm in favor of addressing writing skills with written assignments. I also think that after fair warning, grades should reflect when writing skills do not improve.

However some schools simply will not allow that and so we have to make the difficult decision to play along for the sake of a job or buck the system, grade accordingly, and risk losing that job.

I bucked the system at four schools (two on campus locally and two online) and that's why I say that I didn't last long after my first warnings at those schools.

But I do have to say that my students in those classes did improve their writing skills and I guess in the long run, that's what really matters the most.

k8 said...

How frustrating! I bet these are the same people who blame the writing specialists when the students don't perform they way they want them to, too. While they don't need to be complete jerks and drop someone a letter grade for one grammar issue (This happened to me as a student. Dropped a whole letter grade for one split infinitive which, technically, isn't really incorrect), they should be teaching about the discursive norms in their discipline.

Seeking Solace said...

Thanks everyone for the input!

I think the problem is universal. At Private College, I saw the same things that I deal with at New Job. I saw the same crap at Former College, which is a career college.

I have used many of the things you have suggested in the past, peer review, writing center etc. There is more than one way to tackle this issue.

But like Astroprof, I have to wonder about those professors who only grade content? Are they the same ones who complain about poor writing? Who are these people?

No one wants to see the bigger picture. When these students go out into the workforce, and the are asked to produce something in writing...and can't...what then? Who is to blame?

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