Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Academic Independence

Student: "Aren't you going to correct it for me?" 
Me: "No, you're going to do it."
Student: (Disgusted sigh)

There was an article last week on HuffPost College by admissions consultant advising parents on how they can back away from their High School Junior and Senior aged kids in the name of independence and self-sufficiency. And then results of a new survey comes out claiming that parents are hovering around their college attending children more than ever. And while I fall to the side of letting kids go and making their own way and their own mistakes, I don't think that students are adequately prepared to succeed academically on their own. 

What do I mean by this? As I stated in my previous column on how most admissions standards encourages a narrow focus on only certain kinds of writing, students have no idea how to adapt their writing depending on the circumstances and demands of their assignments. More troubling, perhaps, is a general inability of students to look at their own writing and work to improve it. 

We are currently doing peer-review and self-assessments in my writing classes. The exercises are guided, using questions and directions that exactly mirror my own process when evaluating their work. My goal is to get them to be more critical and aware readers of their own writing, partially through looking at the work of others, partially through repeatedly revising their own writing. 

With my developmental writing class, we are working on a short narrative essay, which makes it easier for me to work with them and offer my own feedback along with the feedback of their peers. Plus, this is a developmental writing course - they need more help, or else they wouldn't have been placed in the course to begin with. In my larger 200-level class, we are writing a longer essay. When I revealed to the students that I would not be giving them any feedback on their drafts, I faced an open revolt. How did I expect them to do well on the essay when they didn't know what I would be grading them on?

First question, how do you write your papers in other classes where there is no peer-review or drafting process? Second question, how do you ever expect to be able to do this on your own if you don't start somewhere? If you don't know how to properly cite sources, what good does it do for me to simply correct your mistakes for you? If you don't know the rules for proper comma use (which I have to now check and double-check myself), what good does it do for me to just mark it on your paper? 

My goal is always to teach my students skills and how to adapt them to different situation. In other words, academic independence. Or, more appropriately, intellectual independence. Parents can't do their school work for them; then again, neither can I.

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