Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Different Professors and Different Focuses

This last week went well. My main conflict now is in determining just how much proofreading to do versus exploring grammar concepts. Obviously we are supposed to teach the tutee rather than correct their paper--teach a man to fish rather than giving him a fish and all that--but at the same time, if a student comes into the writing center to have their paper gone over, isn't there an expectation that typos, errors, and other surface mistakes will be fixed?

An illustration. Last week a student came in with an English paper for a certain professor. I have had said professor and know he/she to be an absolute fanatic when it comes to grammar and other surface errors. So much so that form, flow, and even thesis statements seem to be of secondary importance when it comes to grading. Though we are supposed to focus on the macro level of papers, if this student had so much as a misplaced semi-colon he would be docked half a letter grade. For this specific professor the surface errors at the top of the writing pyramid are of equal or even greater importance than the items on the bottom.

I remember specifically a midterm I had taken from this professor where we were required to analyze literature via essay. While the professor praised my essay and wrote that it was skillfully written, I had been marked down from an A to an A- for a grammar error. On closer inspection, I saw this was due to a sentence fragment. I used the fragment intentionally and have seen the same exact thing countless times in scholarly articles and other university writing, but as it did not fit the professor's view of good writing, it was penalized.

And that seems to be my main conflict right now--English educators are not all on the same page. There is a reason students focus on the superficial aspects of paper writing while neglecting what is truly substantive (i.e. paper length, typos, etc. vs thesis, form and substance)--that is what they have been taught to do.  For every Claire Hughes or Scott Rogers exhorting students to focus on the substance of a paper (and rightfully so), there is another professor--like the one the tutee and I shared--waiting with red pen drawn waiting to leap all over a comma splice while disregarding the deeper merits of a paper.

No wonder students do not know what is most important in a paper. From what I have seen, we don't know either.


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