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Assign The Paper Anyway!

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 Kathy  Bryson

We’re headed into the 1st semester of the new state guidelines on remedial education, so some of us may see unprepared students in our classrooms. Most of us have dealt with that one student before, but are wondering what to do if we get a large number of them. If you have students who write poorly, do you change the assignments? Do you look for alternatives to your regular assignments? Do you give up on the paper altogether?

As a Communications Instructor at Seminole, I actually ran into this question when I first started teaching Introduction to Mass Communications. I got 2 types of students – those who wanted to go into press in some way and those who figured it was an easy class because it was about TV. Comp I is not a prerequisite. The first papers I assigned on evaluating the news were awful!

I didn’t have to assign a paper to this survey course. I could give quizzes or have discussion questions, but I thought it was important to give students a taste of media research. What I didn’t want were long-winded diatribes on how media was liberal or Fox was Republican based on no research whatsoever!

Critical Thinking PosterThen I took the Critical Thinking classes that the college offered and learned that you have to break questions down into separate steps. There’s actually a process, a series of questions that you go through in order to ask and answer any one question.

Using this chart as a guide, I broke my general question into 2 separate, shorter essays on 1) what did you observe and 2) did it meet the generally accepted standard? Students keep checking that I really want something that simple, but they also don’t write passionate arguments on nothing anymore.

When I participated in the Writing With Integrity Symposium, I reconsidered the assignment again. The Symposium was directed toward the issues of plagiarism from the perspective of how can we as teachers  provide clearer research guidelines to lead to better understanding? Can we head off plagiarism before it occurs? Using my 2nd paper as an example, I provided the standard I wanted news judged by. Then I asked students to review non-standard news like the Colbert Report and the Daily Show so it wasn’t just a simple checklist. It’s not sneaky; it’s critical thinking!

I still need to develop a 3rd paper that addresses some of the questions on the left of the circle, but overall, I’ve discovered that I get the most coherent papers when I ask the clearest question. Yes, I still run into grammar issues, but those become easier to address when the paper’s not goobledygook. Here are some resources:

Also ask “is a traditional essay the best way to explore the question?” There are many different writing formats and uses.

I’m the first to argue grammar’s importance. That’s why I built the BEACH. But what exactly are you grading for if you say correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling? Read below for examples of where the definition of correct grammar varies substantially:

I think the best explanation and rational for not getting hung up on the minutia of grammar comes from brilliant English comedian, Stephen Fry –

Also consider the environment in which your field operates outside of academia or where your students hope to work in the future. What kind of writing will be required? What other skills will be required along with the written word?

In fact, there’s some discussion about technology fluency becoming as important as basic reading and writing –

Here is some more great discussion on technology in writing. (I particularly like the 2nd example because the layout shows vividly the challenges of moving print online!)

Math Teachers, We Need To Hear From You!

Our focus has been on the writing problems that may arise, but this latest change from the state legislature also affects math and related classes. So Math Teachers, please share. What challenges are you seeing with incoming students’ prior knowledge and how are you addressing them?

To get us started, here are some articles from industry and business press on math readiness:

And just to keep the discussion hopping!

The CETL blog is for and about faculty – what questions are you exploring, what findings have you uncovered, what solutions have you reached? Share your work here with your fellow teachers and get the credit you deserve!
Kathy Bryson

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