Monday, April 13, 2009

You Wrote This Because You Hate Me or Grading the Research Essays of College Freshmen

“Words are something; but to be exposed to an endless battery of mere sounds to be long dying; to lie stretched upon a rack of roses; to keep up langour by unintermitted effort…these are faint shadows of what I have undergone.”
--Charles Lamb, “A Chapter on Ears”

Ask any teacher. Grading is the most frustrating aspect of the art. Rarely is it a satisfying symphony of what they’ve learned but a mettlesome reminder of what they haven’t. This past week I’ve graded a heap of poorly written, half-plagiarized research essays. And never have I been more burdened by the process of marking up papers.

I can’t understand how things I tested them on less than 2 months ago cannot be transferred to writing. I know I’m not teaching English majors or even English enthusiasts, and I understand that they aren’t going to approach essay writing with much gusto. But I can attribute so many of their problems to lack of effort or careless attention to detail. Those things have little to do with writing talent or high school teaching.

I’m starting to realize that what I do for an expository writing class I’m going to have to do for a research one. That means I’m going to provide them with a very rigid structure and very specific rules. I won’t be able to control their languid research, which is where most of their problems arise, but I will be at least be able to take out some of the overwhelming aspects of it by giving them a very clear vision of what I want their papers to look like. That should help a little bit.

Unfortunately, I can't supervise how much work they’re going to put into their research. No matter what rules I put in place, they always find a way to circumvent them and avoid accomplishing what the rules were intended to help them achieve. I can put restrictions on the types of sources they can use (no websites, nothing that doesn’t have an author, etc.), which can force them to do more work than they normally do. But even that won’t combat completely what I’m trying to eliminate: laziness and apathy.

Hmmm…Maybe I should institute an annotated bibliography.

1 comment:

Misslisslee said...

You know, that was always the most frustrating aspect of teaching as an adjunct at a community college. Not the students' lack of knowledge or motivation, because we could work with that material; a simple lack of student work. I was always most frustrated that I often took more time grading an assignment than the student could possibly have taken in writing it.