November 3, 2011

Not Good Enough

This morning, as I began checking off which students turned in their first novel journals, an assignment due yesterday, I started to get increasingly agitated. This was just looking at the formatting, which is not even included in the assessment, but it was included in the instructions.

So what do I do? It is inappropriate to deduct points for papers submitted in pencil rather than in ink or typed, as I requested. I also do not like deducting points because the header is incorrect, although for this assignment, the header listed book, author, and number of pages read, all of which are important. However, the other irritant, papers that did not have paragraphing, is absolutely something that could be marked down, and was actually a part of the rubric.

Rather than get my blood pressure up, I opened up my drawer, took out my REDO* stamp (a first for this year), and started stamping away.

When the students came into class, I told them how irritated I was with the quality of work handed in and rather than complaining about how impossible they were with their other teachers during lunch or starting to hate them a little, I decided to just have them redo the assignments. No, I wasn't mad. They weren't quite in trouble yet, but they also had no choice but to resubmit the assignment because until they do, it is recorded in the gradebook as an incomplete, which I count as an F grade.

They took it maturely. I saw a few light bulbs go off when I articulated why I had been expecting multiple paragraphs. (I'm starting to have doubts about their organizational abilities!) Nobody argued that they had turned in their best work, and in fact, several looked rather sheepish when I approached them with their papers saying, "Formatting aside, is this really your best work? Do you think you might want to look at the overall quality before you turn it in again?" Thank goodness not one student groaned at the thought of having to redo an assignment--that would have ignited my ire for sure. Still it surprised me that there wasn't at least one.

I have a pretty good group of students this year, but I think they are starting to lose momentum. I don't blame them for testing the waters to see how little they can get away with. It's a good lesson for all of us today. I spent most of the day returning the assignments to be redone when I could have spent time scoring the assignments--an exasperating waste of time if you look at one way. I hope that this small act sets a new concept in class: do it well or do it over.

*I had this stamp made at VistaPrint. They often offer "free" supplies and you pay the postage. A lot of teachers have blogged about creative ways to use this company. Do a search--you'll see!


Robert Courtemanche said...

As a journalist (and teacher) I have found that the journalistic method of multiple drafts and rewrites takes care of that problem. I always build 3-5 drafts into any assignment. No one gets it right the first time and that is why editing is a process - let it be. Rewriting teaches them more about their own weaknesses and allows the writer the dignity of self-correction in order to improve and learn. I'm glad that I had copy editors who nursed me through it as a rough intern when I worked at a newspaper. It really does help to think of writing this way.

OKP said...

Good for you!

How do you handle the extra pileup of grading because of rewrites?

HappyChyck said...

Robert, you make a good point. With most big writing assignments, it is multi-step process, and I build in those drafts for when things will be a mess. Next month we are getting ready to do research papers with the science department, and there will be more situations like this.

OKP--In this case, there is really no extra grading because before I even took a look at the content, I knew I wasn't pleased with the presentation, so I passed them back before I even started. When I see an entire page of typed essay and no paragraphing, I know for sure I can't plod through that! Gives me a headache just thinking about it! I did admit in my post that it used up time I would have spent grading; however, you know how better papers are faster to grade, right? I think I'll be able to make up my time.

There are other times when it is only a few students getting the REDO stamp, and with those students, I think of it as a kind of differentiation, and on good days, not only do I give the paper back, I get a few minutes to give them feedback. I can't even give you advice on the extra time it takes, but I am sure that at some point, when I receive more quality work that is easier to assess, I make up the time.

From the evil-teacher point of view, I'm putting their messes back in their hands. Rather than getting irritated, why not make them irritated by telling them to do a better job?

Maestro said...

You know, being a music guy, I don't deal with this kind of thing a lot (Well, not with writing assignments, anyway) But occasionally I hear kids complain that their papers get marked down because the formatting was wrong. I always tell them about my experiences doing my Masters degree - about how the universities stand firm on this issue, and will NOT accept a paper with improper formatting. (And it really sucks when failure to produce a decently written paper actually holds up your graduation - fortunately, that wasn't me) I will say "The academic battlefield is littered with the corpses of grad students who do not know how to follow directions." In short, they better get used to it.

HappyChyck said...

Maestro--You are so right! Early in my master's program I had an APA stickler, and I learned FAST how to format correctly. I like to make excuses that I had spent years workig with and teaching MLA style, but in the end, it did not matter. No way was I going to bomb my papers because of formatting! I'm doing my kiddos a favor, right?

EHT said...

Bravo for you sticking to your expectations regarding format. If you take the time to advise students what target they should aiming at then they should take the time to aim for the target properly.

Maestro has it right...colleges will NOT let the formatting slide, and we are not doing our jobs to prepare students when we ignore our own directions.

Maestro said...

Okay, I'm going to brag a little: I was standing in line at the thesis office when a girl came out the door holding her paper - I could see the cover sheet littered with red ink. I took a breath and walked in with my own paper. The assistant started thumbing through my paper. After a while she looked up at me and asked "Who helped you with your formatting?" I replied "Umm... no one. I followed the guideline that were posted on-line." She sighed and said "You'd think it would be that easy, wouldn't you?". I managed to get out of there with only one correction.

Anonymous said...

I like this. I also share your pain. Spanish involves a lot of creative input via speaking and writing, and, that stamp is the ticket. Going over to Vista Print now to see if I can order a stamp in Spanish!

your bro said...

Sister, I love it! I'm printing off stickers now for the teachers in my life. I know a couple of them will just enjoy the facial expression of the students when they return the papers with the stickers on them. It's a nice way of saying "You're seriously calling this an effort?"