Sunday, October 17, 2004

The Assignment That Went Bad

It seemed like such a clever idea, and that was the first red flag. Clever ideas are like cotton candy sometimes--beautiful to spin and and look at, but in time, become a flat and sticky mess.
We had just finished working through a chapter in the textbook on coherence, and my idea was to create a worksheet in which the students would work through a paragraph of an already written draft and analyze their topic sentences, order and transitions. So far, so good. Well, here's where the clever idea got the better of me. I added that they should look for examples of parallelism, repetitive words, and misused homonyms. After just three weeks in Basic Writing, my students were going to wow me with their acute critical skills.

The second red flag popped up when one of two classes didn't turn the assignment in on time. Okay, a quarter of the class did, but the rest turned the assignment in over the next week.

And today, when I finally pulled the sets out to grade, I realized that what I had done was overwhelming. Many writers had rewritten their entire paper. Others had simply recopied a paragraph, incoherent warts and all, onto a new page and turned it in. And yes, a good handful of students in both classes did the assignment and wrote thoughtful responses.

In retrospect, I should have limited the assignment to the topic sentence, organization and transitions, and left the rest for another time. I think that more students would have gotten through the assignment on time, and that it would have been meaningful for them. I might also have added a visit to a Writing Center tutor as part of the project so that they could have received extra help as needed.

By making the assignment shorter, I'd have been able to have returned it rather quickly, something that I think helps keep up a BW classes' morale. I'm not saying that I need to water down my assignments to please the students, but I need to keep in mind what they can handle early in the semester. They are in the midst of preparing their midterm portfolios right now, and they are doing far better than they would have a month ago.

Well, it's back to the stacks and stacks. I'll be writing up my thoughts on Tinberg et al next week, once the grades are in.

1 Comments:

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