Thursday, April 16, 2015

On not knowing what we don't know

At first glance, it appears that the primary problem in this pile of student drafts is that my students just don't know what they're doing, but that would be wrong. Most of my students know some of what they're trying to do but none of them know all of it and, more seriously, they don't know what they don't know and therefore they don't know how to find solutions to the questions they don't know they need to ask.

By this point in the semester they ought to know some things really well, like how to punctuate and cite quotations, which is why I get frustrated when I have to remind them to go back and review the quotation handout that the class covered thoroughly back in January and reviewed several times since then. I post all those handouts on the class website for a reason: because I refuse to re-teach the concepts individually to every student on every paper. Some of my students are probably sick of hearing me tell them to go look at the handout first and then come to me if they have more questions, but they'd save us all a lot of time and angst if they'd just go look at the stinking handout.

It's less easy at this point to try to re-teach the difference between summary and analysis; I can't do that in a handout or in a marginal note on a draft, and if they haven't mastered it by this point, how much can they improve in the next seven days? Nevertheless I'm telling them, for instance, that there's not much point in identifying metaphors if they're not going to unpack the implications of those metaphors and examine how they contribute to meaning. Naming things is not enough! Let's shake 'em upside-down and see what falls out.

(Which provides another metaphor they'll need to unpack. Practice makes perfect!)

And then we have the whole complicated issue of citing sources, which is a problem when some students don't even know what those sources are. Asked to produce articles from peer-reviewed academic journals, students find book reviews or quote from the article abstracts they find in the library's research databases, suggesting that on the internet, no one knows if a source is a dog. And then I'm once again explaining to a student that the word "Print" in a Works Cited listing means that he has relied on an actual hard copy of a text with pages that turn and therefore have actual printed page numbers that ought to appear in parenthetical citations, and I'm hearing, "Oh, so that's what 'Print' means. I guess I don't have any print sources." I guess not. Time to go find some!

And don't even get me started on the student who assures me that no one has ever written anything about a particular topic when a cursory search would reveal that among the many scholars who have examined that topic is, ahem, your obt. svt. 

But we are all still learning, aren't we? I'm learning diplomatic ways to tell students to go back and do it right this time, and they're learning the consequences of not having learned some essential skills earlier in the semester. So far, I give myself a B+. The students' grades will have to wait until after they revise their drafts.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I certainly understand your frustration. However, the only thing lacking appears to be some sort of effort to determine whether something about your teaching method has contributed to these issues. Yes, the responsibility to follow instructions falls to the student, but, at the same time, the responsibility to find a different way if the first way is not working is yours.