Given my former statement that instructors are letting students off the hook for their failure to complete assigned readings, I have tried to hold students to higher standards when grading. This is especially true for writing assignments. This includes requiring students to have things like thesis statements that they support with relevant examples. In one course, I required students to write brief summaries of some topic that had stood out to them during the previous section of the course, asking them to combine the information in their readings to look at something from a different perspective. These papers were okay at best.
Although there was some improvement as the semester went on, students seemed nearly incapable of writing an original thesis statement and supporting that statement with data. While I am not sure why this is the case, I was interested in on particular comment on a student’s course evaluation: “Dr. Smith asked us to write summary papers after each unit. When he graded the first papers, he graded them as persuasive essays, expecting an argument and support in the papers. This made it difficult to write the papers.” Based on this sentence, I’m not sure what exactly made the papers difficult to write (the combination of summary and argument? conflicting instructions and grading?) but I was struck by the use of the term “persuasive essays.” To me, all essays should be persuasive. This student, however, considers persuasive essays to be a particular type of writing that is separate from most writing. In future classes I’m going to explore this language further to see if I can help students bridge the gap between persuasive essays and essays.