Teach Your Children Well
June 9, 2005

So, let me see if I understand what the University of Notre Dame is doing. First, their program is structured so that students write three papers over the course of the semester. They write a first draft, have that critiqued by peers and the instructor; then they write a second draft. Again, the draft goes through a critique by peers and instructor and again a revised draft is written. This third draft is critiqued in detail by the instructor, but no grade is given. At the end of the semester, students turn in each of their three papers again, re-written one final time.

Now, I'll admit it: if a student actually tries to re-write the paper, it's nearly impossible to fail the class with this setup. But nearly impossible is quite different from impossible.

What if the student paragraph I posted earlier only changed a couple of words?

Identity has show that genetics can have a key role in the formation of identity. Gene structure will guide the human intelligence. Most of the studies on genetic formation of identity have been through twins. Genetics and identity have a correlation between each other that balance together in unison. Fraternal or identical twins both have physical and mental similarities in genetics, which help compose their identity. Twins can have a different nurturing method used by parents. Parents and twins have adapted a style of nurturing that involves balancing genes. The idea of identity at conception is believed to be the origin of identity especially in the genetics of twins. Twins have shown a role in the genetics in identity.

What if this became:

Identity has shown that genetics has a key role in the formation of identity. Gene structure will guide the human intelligence. Most studies on genetic formation of identity have occurred by studying twins. Genetics and identity have a correlation between each other that balance together in unison. Fraternal or identical twins both have physical and mental similarities in genetics, which help compose their identity. Twins can have a different nurturing method used by parents. For example, maybe one twin is allowed to play sports, but the other one is told to study instead of playing sports. Parents and twins have adapted a style of nurturing that involves balancing genes. The idea of identity at conception is believed to be the origin of identity especially in the genetics of twins. Twins have shown a role in the genetics in identity.

Technically, this is a new draft of the paragraph. If the focus of the class is on the writing process and this is all the revision this paragraph has seen -- through four drafts with critiques from instructor and peers, all of whom point out the logical issues -- should this writer pass?
(NOTE: The student who wrote the original paragraph here actually did do a full re-write on his paper and improved it a great deal. This second paragraph is a fictitious illustration characteristic of "re-writing" that I saw many times while teaching at ND.)

If a student only changes a few words, doesn't address serious issues in the writing and generally refuses to take any comments from peers and instructors AND also refuses to explain WHY none of those comments were addressed (and maybe explain that the writer was trying for a different effect than the one the instructor and peers assumed the writer was attempting) -- should that student pass?

If a student simply re-prints the first draft and turns it in as a second draft, a third draft and then for a grade at the end of the semester while changing 12 words and adding one more sentence, does this mean the student has learned how to write and should pass the class?

Looking at a five-page paper printed out four times might look like twenty solid pages of work - a lot of work for one semester - but how hard is it to hit the print button every couple of weeks? Should that be all it takes to pass a composition class?

Now, let me be perfectly clear here: I don't believe in punishing students with grades. Students should be allowed to disagree with an instructor -- even to disagree with the comments made on earlier drafts. In fact, I think instructors and students should be able to have discussions about what the student was trying to accomplish and the teacher ought to be able to shift the way he or she is evaluating the paper to match the student's goals. (Well, as long as the goals of the class and the assignment are also being met -- we often don't get to pick the exact assignment we'd like in school or in the 'real world.')

But what if the student is a poor writer and never tries to improve throughout the entire course of the semester?

Should a student fail because he or she is a poor writer? Or should instructors pass the student just for trying - even if that trying is simply hitting the print button four times?

Students who have attended FYC regularly and submitted all major assignments should earn As, Bs, Cs, or Ds only. (Fs are reserved for students who stop attending or who do not turn in one or more of the three Unit Assignments.)

What message does this send to our children?
It doesn't matter what you write or how well or poorly you write. It only matters that you look like you're trying.

Is that true?
Should it be?

Posted by Red Monkey at June 9, 2005 5:06 PM | Why Johnny Won't Learn and Mrs. Curnutt Is Tired of the System | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

Free Pixel Advertisement for your blog