Crashed in Flames!

As feared, my students are falling like flies from the sides of a scorching lightbulb. Twenty-two of the little things flunked—well, scored D’s and F’s—on their first serious effort. The two English 102 sections only have 50 students. Fewer, now that we’re a third of the way into the semester and the usual complement have dropped. So. About half of them failed, or might’ near.

Luckily, it’s a trial flight and carries only 50 points (that alone may be why their effort has been wanting). They have another 500 points coming from major assignments and an indeterminate (but potentially grade-shifting) number from various busywork in-class participation projects.

A brief post-mortem reveals some interesting issues.

• Two students actually had the nerve to say the topic bored them and they would not write about it. Apparently they think I should care.

• Several wrote papers without a lick of research; they BSed their way through 750 words without having the faintest idea what they were talking about.

• Quite a few could not formulate a coherent or accurate thesis statement (especially true of those who knew not what they wrote).

• Thematic focus and organization challenged a couple of classmates.

A summary of the data, such as they are:

Not surprising. And yet, in the large scheme of things, amazing.

I mean, think about it: We’re talking about people—not stupid people, at all—who have been in school for 13½ years. And they can’t compose a workable thesis statement? Really? Seriously? They can’t manage to put their point in a nutshell, all by their little selves?

Think of that.

By and large “Content” comprised instances where little or no research had been done. The writers either did not make the effort to (read “could not,” in some cases) find the most rudimentary information about their topics or they did not understand it.

Think of that.

They’re second-semester college students.

I was writing silly little papers like these in junior high school. I vividly remember writing them. And I remember learning how to find the information needed to build them, how to acknowledge that information, and how to weave it into the narrative. Yes. In junior high school. My cohort continued to write such essays all the way through high school. We all wrote at least a couple of term papers every semester. By the time we reached college, we did not have to be reminded how to formulate a thesis statement, how to organize a paragraph, or how to order paragraphs in a way that makes sense.

But here, five of our classmates cannot write a coherent paragraph. Five cannot organize a theme coherently. Five: that’s more than a tenth of the students!

W, to coin a phrase, TF?

Is the assignment too difficult? Kinda doubt it. In only one instance was the content undeniably over a young writer’s head. Ten classmates scored A’s and B’s—a fifth of the assembled multitude, leaving 17 in the C range. That’s not a bad curve. Twenty-two failed or came unacceptably close to failure, yet twenty-seven passed.

But still. Half of them should not be performing on a sub-par level.

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