Still Problems After All These Years

In a stack of papers called Unorganized.

  • Jan
  • 18
  • 2006

I find myself shocked that I have to remind juniors and seniors about things as elementary as underlining or italicizing titles of plays; that a play is not a novel or book; that the title of your essay needs to say something about the essay content; that, no, a handwritten version of the final draft is not acceptable; that, no, it’s not ok for me to print your essay on the day of the final. This says something about the attitude toward the paper. While I have never seen students work on an essay as much as they’ve worked on the final essay, it still shows me that even though it’s the final essay, having it ready for the final is not important. Common problems I’m encountering during grading essays:

  • Simple, first-draft errors abound in these essays. These things could easily use another 2 drafts before turning them in to me. My hands-off approach to peer editing isn’t working and this semester has clearly laid that out. Peer-editing sheets I’ve used in the past have just amounted to meaningless paperwork, a numbered sheet with things written down for each number that doesn’t mean anything to the writer as s/he sits down to write another draft. What I’ve seen happen with my hands-off approach (which is basically saying that the more people that read yours and the more people’s you read before the final draft that I’ll grade, the better your grade will be) is that those who are self-directed are doing a bang-up job evaluating and improving each other’s papers. Those who are not just sit and read, glancing over the mistakes and not marking anything down or, worse, not noticing. I believe that happens with any kind of assignment sheet, too. So how do I create a peer editing session that’s worth the time we spend and that will help get rid of things like comma splices, missing words, repeated words, etc?
  • These essays are about The Crucible and Hamlet. Underlining or italicizing the titles of plays and novels and TV shows and magazines and newspapers and movies are acceptable, but quotation marks are not. Quotation marks are reserved for short stories, magazine articles, TV show episodes. Why is this so hard to remember?
  • The default margin setting in Microsoft Word is 1.25″ for the left and right margins. MLA format says that all margins should be 1″. Despite my best efforts in class to show everyone how to change that setting (and I acknowledge that my lessons need to be more targeted in this matter), there are a majority of students who don’t know how to modify that setting.
  • I only had one student who wrote her heading information on the right side of the page (MLA requires it on the left), but even one out of 120 is too many and I’m baffled why she thought that was correct.
  • The title of the paper should not be bold or in quotation marks or underlined or something meaningless like “Final Essay About Hamlet.”
  • Here are two sentences from two different papers, the lowest scoring of the bunch:
    • There will be many important decissions that Ihave to come. One of the most difficult, is the peer preasure of drugs and alcohol.
    • In this story of Hamlet, there were a lot of people that made a difficult decision. I chose Hamlet as the one that made a difficult decision because throughout the play, he had to make decision, which he does not know if it’s going to be a bad one.

    Those suggest some serious errors that a student facing graduation should not be making. I am amazed and I will be working closely with those two students second semester (they are both people who don’t indicate much time and effort poured into their writing).

  • “I looked across the street. I saw him standing there. Then I picked up a rock. Then I threw it across the street. The rock hit him because he was just standing there. He didn’t move, so I thought it was his fault. He didn’t feel that way. He got angry at me for throwing the rock. Then I said sorry. I learned that…” I hate reading that. I want to shoot myself. I am not impressed. I need to teach sentence variety. I need to do more than just show it. I need to demonstrate how to do it. I can’t wait to try it. You try it, too.
  • Am I seriously still seeing “In conclusion”? Even though you can ride with them, you don’t still use the training wheels on your bike, do you?
  • Reflection happens after considering the facts of the story and investing those facts with some importance or significance. An explanation of that importance or significance is due in order to show the level of reflection. When that reflection happens in the span of a short paragraph, I have to question the level of seriousness and honest consideration.
  • The quality of storytelling is weak, in that there’s not a real flow of ideas or plot elements. Dialogue is used infrequently if at all and descriptions of surroundings are brief and a reason for the reader to identify with the characters is nonexistent. Too much of this writing assumes that I care about the story already and that I know a little bit about what has happened; background for the story isn’t very thorough.

I’m sure there’s more, but these are the things I notice right now. And I’m still sick, for those who are counting.

1 comment

1. Laurie says:

[1/18/2006 - 6:57 pm]

The hardest thing about looking at writing like this is that I always feel like such a failure! And I know that I have demonstrated, lectured, shown examples, written comments about each of the errors you mentioned. And I have done it repeatedly throughout the year, yet it seems as if they don’t care. There it is. THEY DON’T CARE. And when students don’t care about their writing, they put little effort into it. So we are back to looking at how to create authentic writing experiences. We can teach students how to improve their writing when their writing means something to them. Not to us. To them. Okay now I am going to revamp my Lord of the Flies unit.
By the way I am counting. Feel better.