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Hell and Damnation

15 March, 2007

Hell and Damnation

So I’m spending my break grading, rather than writing the paper and book review I’d planned on writing. The document analysis essays I’m grading are awful. I had this cunning plan of starting with short writing assignments worth small amounts of points, and building over the course of the semester. So the first assignment was 2-3 paragraphs — external information about the assigned primary source, and two or three general things that a historian might use the document for, e.g., family life, or gender relations. The next one was about 5-7 paragraphs and asked them to do the same thing, but to choose one theme and give a couple of specific examples from the text, how they relate to the theme, and how those things fit in with the context of the external information. This one, I asked them to compare two documents. I gave them specific instructions on the work I wanted them to do to set up their essays — lists of information on the external stuff (kinds of documents, authorship, audience, dates, etc.) and internal stuff (kinds of information, subjects/themes dealt with, etc.) Then choose one subject or theme only, and compare and contrast the documents.

Except, well, I kind of figured they would realize that they were supposed to be putting this all together. The good students did. The vast majority did the spadework, and chose a single theme, and compared and contrasted that theme, but included nothing on the externals (even though that was part of the exercise), and NO analysis whatsoever. I asked them to make sure they answered the question of what the documents tell us, and assumed that the “how” was going to be covered. Because, well, when you make a statement in an argumentative essay, you have to support it, don’t you? Except that, of course, lazy and untrained brains are not going to go there. Of course, none of them are first-semester students. They should know they have to support their work …

I’m so thoroughly pissed off right now. Most of it is with myself. I’m usually really careful not to let things like this slip through the cracks. I’m usually the queen of over-explaining. But part of me is really pissed off that I have to do that in the first place. Because when I was at university, I was given a paper topic, and wrote the paper. If I got it wrong, I got a poor grade, and I learned from my mistakes or, if really confused, asked how to fix them. So I am now wondering what to do about the marking — do I raise every grade by 5 points because my instructions were not as precise as they could have been? Or do I do what I’m tempted to do, and make this a step of the final document paper, and have them re-write it properly for part of their final grade?

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 March, 2007 12:08 am

    Oh, I’d definitely go for the second option, making it part of the final document paper. I really like your setup for those assignments, and I don’t think your instructions were that unclear. (Of course it’s a lot eaiser for me to be tough on other people’s students…)

  2. 16 March, 2007 12:35 am

    I think it’s probably difficult in that many of them are taking their first lit class at the same time. Students tend to think of English classes as “where we learn to write” and “if my English teacher says it’s correct, then it is.” I think, unless a campus really has some kind of dedication to writing in lots of disciplines, students keep that impression for far too long. I know most of my colleagues in English do say that different fields have different standards and styles of writing, but the students aren’t getting it.

  3. 16 March, 2007 1:18 am

    Wait…they didn’t think to support their work? Gah. I don’t think it was at all unclear, I had to support my work in High School, so you’d think most of them would get it. I agree with H/P on the 2nd assigment.

  4. 16 March, 2007 3:32 am

    Remember, too, that you’re still the new prof they’re testing . . .

  5. 16 March, 2007 3:36 am

    Well, I just got down to the end, and several students actually did do it right. One’s an upperclassman who’s a history minor, not sure about the other two.

  6. 16 March, 2007 7:04 am

    One thing which I’ve started doing quite consistently is having paper assignment turn-in be the agenda for a whole class period. The initial idea was to give students a chance to talk to each other, to argue about history. What it’s turned into is a diagnostic procedure: by talking through the assignment I find out whether or not they’ve actually understood it, and if enough of them haven’t, I send them back to redo it, with a few more clues. I am a little afraid that there’s some potential for them to abuse the system, but as long as my standards on the assignments remain high, it should work.

  7. 17 March, 2007 4:42 pm

    Second option, definitely, if only to make sure that they ‘get’ it now and never do this wrong again.

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