Other than grading, I associate the end of the semester with complaining, mostly about grading, but also about students and their complaints. The other day I was talking to a colleague who remarked that a student had recently asked why he didn’t get an A when his paper had all of the required parts. I noted that I include statements at the end of my syllabi about what each grade means in an attempt to inform students that simply meeting the requirements will not earn them an A. Of course, the fact that this statement is made of words and placed at the end of the syllabus probably means that few students are aware of it. During our discussion I started contemplating more effective ways of delivering this message. One way goes something like this:
Simply having all of the required parts of an assignment will not earn you an A. Think of the parts of a paper like the parts of a car. Just because you have all of the parts doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to drive anywhere, as this example shows:
Simply having all of the parts might earn you a C. I hope that you’re not okay with a C. You can do better than that! Like writing a good paper, assembling a car takes a lot of work. Luckily for you, writing a good paper is actually much easier for most people than assembling a car. Of course, having all of the parts and connecting them is also not necessarily enough for an A, as this example shows:
Having all of the parts and assembling them in a way that resembles a paper might earn you a B. There are some obvious flaws here! There are grammatical errors all over the doors of this car! How, then, can you earn an A? An A paper should be more like this:
An A paper not only has all of the parts assembled in a way that resembles a finished product, it reflects the effort that went into creating it. An A paper does not have any glaring flaws (like, you know, a charred interior) and its appearance reveals that it has been well-maintained. It is clean and polished and hopefully even original. An A paper is not the result of somebody starting to write with the first sentence, stopping when he or she has fulfilled the requirements, and submitting the paper without proofreading. An A paper takes work. When you earn it, I will be happy to give you an A.