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Essay Comments Triage

The funny thing is, in one of my classes, almost every student made a serious effort to write a creditable, intelligent essay. Even those who I think missed the mark still made an effort. In another of my classes — one of the writing courses — there’s a kind of relentless bleah, f*ck-it, whatever attitude that persists from semester to semester. Though we have hour-long critique sessions wherein student work is discussed, as often as not the work comes back pretty close to how it originally was drafted. Even when everyone else has recommended a rewrite. Even when everyone including myself has pointed out problems. Even when, indeed, I’ve pointed out serious problems in the work.

Time is short, energy is short, and I’m not the Messiah. So my response is triage.

Group 1: Students whose second drafts of their articles show signs of a strong effort to address the issues raised in critique will receive a detailed discussion.

Group 2: Students whose work shows minimal effort at revision or addressing problems explicitly discussed in class critique, or who submit their work late, will receive a modicum of commentary pointing this out. This includes also students who take the commentary into account in the laziest way possible, for example, when being informed that such-and-such a text is considered racist, putting, “I’m not praising it because it’s racist!” and then unwittingly spinning out how enlightening all the racist tropes are.

Group 3: Students who fail to attend class reasonably often will get a one-line comment to talk to me if they have questions. (Which will allow me to talk about their attendance problems in addition to the problems in the written work.)

In addition, since I directed students to look at the “Formatting Your Written Work” info page on my classes website, those who fail, for example, to use an appropriate font or to double space will get either illegible line edits, or none whatsoever. If they can’t be bothered to format it so I can write comments, I’m not going to struggle to do so anyway.

In terms of the late work fitting into Group 2, this is how my profs back in Canada often did things, and it’s only my own disorganization (well, and the disorganization of the office, where homework is not date-stamped when submitted) that has kept me from doing so. What I really need is a few in/out boxes, where I can put work awaiting grades, and late work awaiting grades. Maybe I’ll set that up in my office next semester.

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