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Archive for March, 2011

A little bit of love for teachers, since last post was rather critical.

“What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali

Also see his website http://www.taylormali.com/ for more poems and videos.

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Re: Please refrain from writing “who cares?” “so what?” and other similar statements when grading student papers.

The writing centre gets busy at this time of year as the term draws to a close and essays and assignments are nearing their due date. Many students are coming in with earlier assignments to seek advice on improving their next assignment. A number of these assignments from a number of different disciplines have words such as “who cares?” written across the top of a page or in the margins of the assignment. This is poor marking practice for at least two reasons: 1. It is not an informative means for the marker to make their point. 2. It is really discouraging to students.

First, the point that I believe markers are trying to convey by these phrases is something like: “explain further…” “what are the implications of x for y?” “What do you mean by x?” “why is x important to your thesis?” and so forth. These points are precise and inform the student how to go on; that is, they offer information about what to improve for the student’s next paper. They give a well-specified means of identifying precisely which expectations of clear writing have not been met. In contrast, “so what?” or “who cares?” do not specify which elements of clear writing have been violated. A student who receives this latter annotation is not likely to understand how to improve their next paper. The great irony of writing “so what?” on a student paper is that the marker intends to convey to the student that the student has been insufficiently clear either in the description or in connecting the description to the thesis. But what the marker has written is itself unclear and imprecise. Do not model in your grading the very same writing characteristics you are trying to dissuade your students from using.

Second, students find comments such as “who cares?” and “so what?” to be very dismissive and insulting. These comments are discouraging because they do not offer instruction on how to improve the next time around, but they are also discouraging because they imply that the student’s point is unimportant or uninteresting. Rather than encouraging further development (as the comment, “explain further” would do), the comment “who cares?” discourages further development because the marker is conveying that no one would care about this point. The student is unlikely to interpret this phrase as an invitation to elaborate, and is instead more likely to interpret this phrase as a suggestion that the point should be erased. The marker intends the phrase to be asking for further elaboration, but the phrase in fact conveys the exact opposite: that no elaboration is needed because the point is unimportant (or worse, “stupid”).

Few students cry at the writing centre, but of those that do most of them have “so what?” or “who cares?” written somewhere on their paper. It is bad marking practice because it makes the marker recapitulate the very error they are asking students to avoid. And it is bad marking practice because it makes students feel like they are dumb and should give up on the subject. We can do better by students. Writing “who cares?” or “so what?” on a student paper is a lazy way of marking. “Explain” is just as concise and does a better job of informing students of their error.

Here are some phrases that markers can use in place of these terrible short-hand phrases:

  • More…
  • Omit
  • Explain
  • Explain further…
  • How do you know?
  • What is the connection?
  • What is your evidence?
  • What do you mean by x?
  • What is the reason for x?
  • Why is x important to your thesis?
  • What are the implications of x for y?

Another way to save ink and time is to make a marking code key and share this with the students:

  • RV = relevance?
  • EF = explain further
  • CS= comma splice

This method is even more concise than writing “So what?” but will also be more informative.

Related Reading

Wielding the Red Pen in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Probably many readers have seen this video of Jessica who is in a good mood and is talking about all the things she likes and how great she is.

It is really cute and uplifting. Whoever was filming her captured one of those family moments that make parenthood worth its hardships. This is an emotive piece; I think most people who watch it will feel uplifted by Jessica’s innocent affirmation, just as the person filming her did.

Then Maxwell House Coffee took that clip and turned it into a TV commercial with the theme of taking an “optimism break” (video after the jump).

(more…)

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