Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Clear and Complete Thesis - subtitle: The Assignment Was Not to Write a Detective Novel please, please, please do not withhold from your thesis statement the point of the essay.

Do not write that there is a deeper cause for something without saying immediately what that cause is.

Do not write that the story has a theme without saying immediately what that theme is.

Please give away the end.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Don't You Even... (dealbreakers/grade-destroyers)

There are a number of frustrations that come with grading essays. And, contrary to legend, not everything about grading essays is frustrating. For example, I get to read my students' ideas that they either didn't bring up during discussion or hadn't developed until they sat down to write the essay - that's my favorite part. There are new, interesting ideas in each stack of essays. There is some great writing to be enjoyed for its own sake.

Of the frustrations that come with grading essays, most are small annoyances. The vast majority of problems in an essay are forgivable mistakes that might ding the grade, especially if they pile up, but which are the understandable result of a student with a number of classes to juggle who got only one appointment with the Writing Center and only one or two revisions done before the deadline. An unintentional fragment (big deal, it happens). An organizational structure that stumbles (it made sense at the time). Predictable and/or not very thorough research (you're not that into the class, I understand). I wish these essays were better, and the grade won't be anything to write home about, but whatever, they show some effort and the ideas come across in the end.

But some frustrations are so huge, so massive, that they feel like an insult to my time and my intelligence. These "What Were You Thinking???" essays truly make me wonder if the student even begins to understand how uncool it is to totally waste the time of the person who determines the course grade.

If you want me to get so angry/frustrated while I am grading your essay that I have to get up and walk around for a minute so I can clear my head, do any combination of the following*:

  • Use Sparknotes or Cliffsnotes or Wikipedia as a reference. -- I know I said in class and on the syllabus to use them as reading guides on difficult texts, but I also said very clearly that they are not research and are never, ever, ever to be used as reference in an essay
  • Turn in an essay that is half of required minimum length
  • Use no organizational structure whatsoever, so that the essay is more or less a string of vaguely related sentences. Occasionally hit "enter" and "tab" to create the illusion of a new paragraph. Begin with a wandering, sloppy introduction that isn't really about anything in particular but has a definition (or two) and maybe a reference to pop culture
  • Quote absolutely nothing from the primary text (Yes, the actual text you're writing the essay about), but rather discuss it generally, and maybe throw in some quotes from a one or two of the seven secondary sources listed on your Works Cited page
  • Turn in your essay in an unreadable font, when the assignment clearly asks for 12 pt. Times New Roman (script-style fonts are especially frustrating)
  • Summarize. -- I read it. I swear to you, I've read the text lots of times and I know what happens in it. An essay that does nothing but tell me the story all over again makes me wonder if you read it or if you're paraphrasing the summary on Sparknotes
  • Use no formatting whatsoever. Throw in some quotes, with maybe some quotation marks at (either) the beginning or end of the quote. No page numbers. No author's name. No Works Cited page, or maybe one but just with a handful of internet links with no mention of what they actually are
  • Misspell your own name
  • Misspell, repeatedly and in various forms, the title of the work you are writing about
  • Write, in the essay, that the text is old and boring and there is no point in anyone reading it anymore
  • And, of course, plagiarize. -- Yes, we can tell when students plagiarize. We can usually tell when it's accidental. We can certainly tell when a friend in a different class or at a different school wrote it for you or gave you one that had already gotten a decent grade, because it will include things we didn't read or ever cover or will be in a style wholly unlike everything else you wrote for class. Also, when you cut and paste things from the internet, it is a good idea to make sure that you've changed the font type, size, and color to match the rest of the essay. The giant, purple, Comic Sans is a dead giveaway.

I think the idea for some students is that I have to grade it, so they might as well turn in something and see what happens, even if they know they don't care. I am shocked at how many of these students get their essays back and are delighted with the D, or shrug at the F, and figure it was worth the hour or so they spent cranking out something that should have taken 10 hours. But do you really want the person grading your essay to be angry???

So if you want to see smoke coming out of my ears, try out a few things on the list. 

* All of these have happened in essays I have graded. Some of them are rare, it is true. Some of them are alarmingly frequent.