Sunday, July 8, 2012

Indignant Irma sounds off over email. And a bit of a Sunday thirsty.

The followed arrived in my inbox recently. All spelling and grammar is [sic]. The lack of a salutation is in violation of my email protocol, and yet is also not surprising or unusual.
I really don't appreciate such negative feedback on my term paper. I am not the strongest Basketweaving researcher, but not all of us are as interested in the material as those that are. I understand it is my responsibility to preform to the required standards but I found it difficult. I struggled a lot with this paper and I don't think you understood the question I asked you in our meetings. The sources for example, I was asking you if they were sited in the proper format..NOT if they were the proper sources. If I had known the answer to my question I wouldn't have made errors. I am about to graduate and I am really hoping this class doesn't keep me from that. Is these an extra assignment or can I fix my paper for extra points?

This student showed me two drafts before the final version of the paper. I made extensive written comments on each draft, and also met with the student during office hours. I made very clear, multiple times, that the student had failed to consult the type of sources required by the assignment. In my office hours, I even pulled up the specific places on the internet (mainly .gov and .org sites), and on scholarly databases, where the sources for her chosen subject could be found. I showed her examples of good sources, and explained why the sources that she had cited (or, in quite a few cases, not cited) were inappropriate for the assignment. The problem was not that the sources were not "sited" in the proper format; it was that she used bad sources, even after being told on multiple occasions that this was a problem with her paper.

There were other problems, which I addressed in the comments that I made on her final draft:
Your level of writing in this paper is really quite inexcusable for an upper-division university class, especially since I actually marked many of your problematic sections when you sent me a draft, and in most cases you made no effort at all to fix the problems. This applies both to larger issues of meaning and sentence construction, and to smaller problems of spelling and punctuation. For example, in your draft I corrected your spelling of "British decent," pointing out that the correct term was "British descent," and yet you didn't even take the time to fix this very simple mistake. There were numerous other errors of this sort, as well as instances of incorrect use of apostrophes and inconsistent capitalization of proper nouns.
Now the thirsty: I wonder how blunt other Miserians are in their criticisms of students' work?

I've been accused in student evaluations, on quite a few occasions, of being "harsh" and "rude" and "unreasonable" in my criticisms. The comment above, in which I tell the student that the writing is not up to university standards, is about the most blunt criticism that I put on student work. I'm conscious that we shouldn't try to humiliate or demoralize students, but it seems to me that sugarcoating the crap is not working, and that students need to be told when the stuff they turn in just doesn't cut the mustard. I am always willing to praise good work, and even the better aspects of weak work; I'm also happy to praise students who improve over time, because it shows that they're reading my comments and taking the work seriously. As I told this student, though, my responsibility as an educator is to evaluate their work and to tell them how to improve, and I would be irresponsible if I placed a "D" on the paper without explaining the reasons for such a grade.

Maybe in future I'll save myself some time and effort, and just write "Great job! D." Maybe that will help them "preform" better in the class.

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