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Quality of the writing in an assignment

I am struggling with the quality of writing that students are producing for written assignments. Although one section of the rubric might contain statements such as :             “No grammatical, spelling, or punctuation errors. Paragraphs are well structured. Sections are well organized. APA format is used.”    this seems to be totally disregarded. I have students who are clearly ESL , some who have learning disabilities and a large group that I do not believe fall into either category. I can see several problems. One is that ESL students are translating and  I believe certain parts of speech do not exist in their native language. Another is that spell check is used and the wrong word, although correctly spelled, has been inserted and not caught by the student. Yet another problem is that the paper does not seem to be proof read for accuracy so many errors exist with the final submission. Last, and most problematic, is that the paper is very poorly organized, does not cover all of the requirements itemized in the assignment document, and is often off target. I have tried to get some direction in how to handle these concerns but I have not been very successful. I feel like I am the bad guy when students tell me they have submitted papers in many courses and have never been told that this is a problem. My concern——-What to do?

 

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3 comments to Quality of the writing in an assignment

  • Have you considered having the students read each other’s first drafts of the papers prior to submission? You can pair the students as you see fit the session before the paper is due. The students will both earn a credit if it is well organized and the spelling, grammar, attribution, etc are correct on both final papers. The students will have time to make the revisions and edits before submitting them to you. It is an opportunity for peer coaching and they can learn from one another.

    I have used this technique with students of all ages. The grad students sometimes complain that they want the “A” and are fearful that I will curve the grades. I assure them that part of the course is coaching others so that they will all excel.

  • I’ve encountered the same problem in my Economics of Latin America class. The department wants this 200 level course to be a bit more rigorous than the intro courses I usually teach, so I always assign a group research paper due at the end of the term. The first semester was a disaster–the writing was sloppy, many papers were cobbled together from various individual works with no regard for the overall flow of the paper, and most alarmingly, many ignored my oft stated requirement that proper APA or MLA citation be used.

    In subsequent semesters, I’ve required a first draft to be submitted weeks before the final work is due. This meant more work for me, but it was the only effective way to improve the quality of the papers handed in. Peer coaching sounds like a good idea, but if they don’t take it seriously, it could still lead to poor quality. Also, many students won’t even know what to look for beyond grammar and spelling errors.

  • Late reply – but perhaps still relevant – as I know that every semester I struggle with the same issues. I like Carol’s suggestion of letting students work together – I do a version of peer review with three students in a group. 15-20 minutes are devoted to each partial draft (very important to have students only bring a partial draft – if they write the entire assignment, they are too invested and very resistant to revision).

    For each draft, the students read the draft silently (3-4 minutes) and write a letter to the author addressing the two or three questions I provide: e.g., paraphrase the thesis and demonstrate if it is arguable, present one piece of evidence provided and explain its use, make a suggestion for further development (6-7 minutes). (The student author writes to him/herself.)

    After 10 minutes of reading and writing, the group discusses the writing and suggestions for revision (clarity, precision, motive) and development (more support, another angle, etc.).

    This does take up an entire class session, but it often helps in several ways: students get to see other models, they can brainstorm with each other, and I force them to provide feedback which emphasizes the “big picture” issues, rather than editing / proofreading.

    It also forces each student to reflect on his/her own paper which is (from my perspective) even more useful than any feedback received from peers. At the end of the session, each student spends five minutes handwriting on the draft what revisions they plan on making and the general direction or structure of the remainder of their paper. I then collect the draft with the notes and the letter each author has written to him or herself (I do not collect or review the letters from peers) and when I respond to the draft, I can see where the author is struggling – (they often ask me questions). As Jared mentions, it is time consuming to review and provide feedback on drafts, but it really is the only way to have students understand writing as a process, and to assist them as they struggle with the process.

    Two additional issues: 1. I return each draft with the assignment rubric on which I’ve underlined the areas which need attention – in addition to my two or three comments on the “big picture issues.” Having the rubric saves a lot of time because I can just circle the criteria which are underdeveloped (perhaps it is structure and organization, perhaps development and support, perhaps grammar and format). 2. I also indicate on the rubric that this exercise (draft, peer review, letter, revision) is a required component of the assignment. Students who are purposefully absent that day and / or who never provide a draft cannot earn full-credit for the assignment.