Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When teaching citation feels like an exercise in futility

I knew we had a problem when I heard myself saying, "I don't see any of you writing this down."

I was standing in front of my first-year composition class and I had just given my students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: I'd graded their essays and found major problems with handling and citing sources, but instead of blanketing their world with D's and F's, I decided to make it a learning experience by allowing them to revise and resubmit. 

I had spent the first ten minutes of class reviewing the purpose of a Works Cited, reminding them that the word "Cited" means that they've actually used information from the source in the body of the paper and that if they have not done so, then the work cannot appear on the Works Cited. Further, I reminded them that they must provide sufficient information to allow a reader to locate the source, which I had tried to do with their sources, with limited success. Finally, I reinforced an important point we've talked about since the first week of the semester: quotations and paraphrases must be accurate. When I see a spelling error in a quotation allegedly drawn from a peer-reviewed academic journal article, that suggests some sloppiness in treatment of sources, but when I see a citation suggesting that a source deals with a particular topic that it does not even mention, that's academic dishonesty.

So I reviewed all these important concepts and urged them to look over their papers and revise any problems in treatment of sources and get them to me before this morning, when I planned to post the grades on the papers. 

And then I noticed that no one had been writing anything down. In fact, not a single student had even taken out a pen or a piece of paper.

How many students took advantage of this rare opportunity to avoid a disastrous grade?


And sadly, he was not the student who most needed to revise.

Talking. To. The. Wall.


Bardiac said...

This sounds pretty darned familiar. Alas.

Stop all the Complaining said...

Sometimes I think you are making up these stories. First, I cannot understand why they didn't know these things to begin with (or do they just not care?). Second, offered an opportunity to address these problems and only one revised- how can that be? I'm sure there are some very good students, but it appears that some of the students are just not taking their education seriously.

Bev said...

All true, sadly. In fact I have an intern observing that class every day all semester long and she witnessed the whole thing and would confirm everything I've said. Like you, I don't know why they don't know these things, not just from my class but from previous classes, but I'm even more astounded at the unwillingness to try to improve.

This is, of course, an unusual class; the problem was confined to only three students, and if they'd been three students in a class of 20, it would not have seemed so strange. In this case, three students constitute the majority of the class, and they've had tons of opportunities for one-on-one assistance all semester long. Some have taken advantage of those opportunities. Others have not. I will never understand the second group.