Monday, October 25, 2004

What Kind of Writing Really Matters?

One of the endless debates in my department is whether it is important that students be able to write an essay in class in a timed situation as an exit requirement for basic and freshman composition courses. As a true believer in portfolios, and in the notion that in the "real world" writers write over time and with the feedback of readers, I put much less importance on this form of writing than most of my colleagues. In my experience, timed, in-class writing exams end up telling me what I already know: that students for whom English is a second language will fare far worse grammatically than their native-speaking classmates and that nearly all students will write the safest, most formulaic essay in terms of content that they can.

I'm curious to know whether others out there are using in-class essays as an exit requirement and if so, to what extent issues like grammatical correctness are considered.


At 7:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An exit essay, if grounded in context and given over a two-class session, takes care of some of those concerns. We do an exam based on preliminary reading, give the students the first class to develop a rough draft, and the second clas for revision and proofreading. Many students benefit from this approach--some still finish in one session, and their paper is not as strong as the others.

But I'm convinced that a modified portfolio is the way to go. Rosa G.

At 5:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My students write two in-class essays, one in the middle of the quarter and one at the end. I don't focus on spelling or grammar with these essays, although I do encourage my students to make sure their handwriting is legible. Mostly I use the in-class essay to show what my students can write on their own, without any outside help; I expect my students to get aid from classmates, friends, roommates, etc., for many of their assignments, but ideally the students can write a decent essay within the hour.

It's true that timed writing situations don't really exist outside of school, but they are a part of many of my students' other classes; I attended the same school where I now teach, and I had to write in-class essays for classes in history, political science, literature, and psychology. So hopefully practicing the timed writing aids them in preparation for their future schooling, if not much past that. Also, my essays aren't completely "timed" essays; if they need more than an hour to write their essay, they can take longer (within reason), although we have to move out of the classroom.

We discuss each essay about a week before we do the assignment in class. My students will be writing their first in-class essay tomorrow; they'll come into the classroom, take two fortune cookies from my bag, and then choose one of their fortunes to use as a starting point for their essay. Most of the in-class essays are fun to read, so I enjoy grading them, too.


At 2:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

No honest really, he was right there in front of me, next to the steaks singing "Love me Tender".

He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)


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