Phi Beta Cons

Re: Teaching Students How to Write

George, you’re exactly right. The only way to address writing is to give line-by-line feedback. We cannot assume that students know what good writing looks like. Every time students pass a written assignment at any level with subpar writing, such poor performance is reinforced as acceptable and the poor writing ability become the next professor’s problem.

Additionally, in regards why many professors shun grading writing, I wrote a fairly self-incriminating essay for NAS that addresses my own frustrations with having to spend much time acting as an English 101 teacher my upper-level classes. The point I made that sums up my difficulties is:

It takes a great deal of mental effort to grade written work properly. I originally wanted to say “it takes a long time” to grade written work, but the time factor is not the main contributor to any time management issue. It takes a long time to record final grades of a large lecture class, but not a large amount of mental effort. To effectively grade a paper of any length, the grader must scrutinize each word. Then the grader needs mental recovery time, as it is difficult to shift gears without clearing the mind. An appropriate comparison is between walking and jogging on a treadmill. Both require exertion, but prolonged jogging cannot be maintained at the same pace as the equivalent amount of walking.

Some weeks, I spend 15–20 hours grading papers. As tempting as it is to grade less writing in favor of scholarly pursuits, I’m not ready to call it quits. The good news that my MBA students do write well, and I actually enjoy reading what they have to say.


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