February 27, 2013
As I get ready for another SAT class this weekend, I look around Facebook at friends who are also teaching and I come across many familiar sentiments. Some teachers want to grade hard but are afraid. Others are not sure if incompetence qualifies for plagiarism. It’s fine. No teacher has all the answers, but one old friend recently put up the following:
Student complained after seeing her grade on blackboard that I am ‘too harsh’ of a grader when it comes to papers.
“Despite what you might think, it is actually perhaps of greater importance in science than in any other field that you be able to effectively, clearly, and accurately communicate your findings in writing. I’m not trying to be harsh, I’m trying to help you improve.”
I offered to meet with the student during office hours, gave her the location of the writing center and linked two good science-writing websites for tips. Hopefully that helps!
People sometimes accuse me of being a grammar Nazi, of being too harsh, and of expecting far too much from my students. They’re only in high school, they say. They’re not AP and magnet program, they say. It’s onl;y their first year in college, others say. These are average, every day students.
Well then what the FRAK is wrong with wanting to raise the average?!
Look, I understand that not every student will finish high school and go on to college. I understand not every college student will pursue a Masters. I understand that even at the graduate level, most people probably won’t be reading stories and analyzing literature.
But could we please, for the love of all that is good and holy in the world, please agree that making sure we can all communicate clearly, and maybe even sneak some critical thinking into what we’re doing, is a GOOD thing? I’m not going to push them so far that the whole class fails, but I don’t want to make it so easy they don’t learn anything new. And if a few of them have to think harder to get it, I’m more than happy to sit with them and explain the concepts to them.
Take my SAT students. They come from private schools and public schools. Some are getting ready to apply for college. Some are a year ahead. I’m treating all of them like potential college students, and I work with college students, so I’m VERY much aware that the current crop, and even the graduate level, is woefully unprepared for the rigors of higher education when it comes to writing.
I went out of my way to learn this all the way back in middle school. I majored in it. I have a degree and career based on it. Fine. I get it. I don’t expect my students to put together sonnets in fifteen minutes or even an entire seven hundred word essay in under an hour. But I would like them to at least have the proper foundation to make themselves heard and understood.
It’s not just English classes. Like my friend said above, science requires very precise language, but as I’ve seen, scientists are also very fond of clutter. Better to cut it off at the source, don’t you think?
Not every person is a writer. I know that. But I’m not a NASCAR driver, yet I know how to signal, avoid danger on the road, and do basic car maintenance if needed. Why shouldn’t everyone know how to write clearly and communicate properly?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for a podcast in two hours. Hello, wine!
In the meantime, let’s enjoy a good little set of jump scares with the trailer for The Conjuring.