Every now and again you get a student, even in a junior-college class, who is SO good and SUCH a type-A doobie that you want to fall to your knees and kiss the ground beneath the desk on which the kid does homework.
I suppose it’s those classmates who keep you going.
The other day, a straight-A student from the online 102 section emailed me, having worked herself up to a fine frenzy. Some unnamed family problems have distracted her from working on the final, giant research paper, and now she knew she wouldn’t be able to do her best on it. In fact, she was afraid it would be pretty half-baked. Would I please bear in mind that she didn’t MEAN to turn in a half-baked paper?
So I wrote back: Don’t worry about it, kid.
The subtext, never articulated of course, was Kid! You write circles around even the best of your colleagues in this course. Enter your name at the top of the file and turn in the rest of it blank, and you’ll still pass.
She’s not assuaged. Shortly comes another worried message: Would I try to estimate what her final score would be if she flunks the paper?
This is easy enough: there’s only one more graded paper due, plus an extra-credit exercise.
I toss 60 points into the column for the final nightmare paper, figuring a D is about as low as this one is capable of going. This puts her final score in the mid-C range.
Then I remember that it’s a 200-point assignment. So I double the ordinary D to the D on steroids, 120 points. Now she comes out with a semester grade of around 85%.
Got that? This kid could fail the final paper ABYSMALLY and still score a firm C in the course. A D-minus on the main product would give her a solid B for the semester.
That’s because she’s turned in every assignment; she’s done every busywork project conscientiously enough to get full credit; and she’s managed high A’s for the two required 750-word research papers.
If you’re reasonably verbal, scoring a high A on one of these little projects is not very hard. Though I have a pretty thorough-going set of rubrics that cover all the District’s desired skill sets and then some, I keep the points-off values pretty low for fine details like spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Otherwise, half the class would fail.
The community colleges are awash in students from low-SES K-12 schools and native speakers of languages other than English. Many of them have never written a researched document (or, as far as one can tell, many documents of any kind) and can barely eke out a coherent paragraph. My job is not to flunk these people. My job is to foster success, and so I lay more emphasis, by far, on organization, logical thinking, and research skills than on stylistic details. You can get a B on a paper that is adequately researched, correctly cited and documented, structured logically and convincingly, and free of fallacies, factual errors, plagiarism, and general stupidity — and never mind whether you can make your verbs agree with your subjects.
Still, as easy as it seems for those of us who are reasonably verbal (the types who spend their spare time writing blog posts, for example…), a good third to half of these students have a difficult time cranking out a halfway decent paper. Most of them fail to turn in a fair number of the small assignments whose unannounced purpose is to provide them with enough points to pass the course even if they CAN’T spell their own names.
You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I’ve seen this semester:
• 750 words presented in one paragraph (hey! one paper, one paragraph, eh?)
• Papers that don’t even come close to fitting the assignment, transparent reboots of essays turned in for other courses
• A paper copied and pasted, whole cloth, from an open-source textbook
• Another paper from the same student, who is one who can barely spell her own name, evidently written by a hired term-paper hack
• Content so illiterate you can’t figure out what its author meant to say
• Reading reviews that show no indication that the author even looked at the passages under review
• Paper after paper that does not address the assignment at all, but rather reviews a different chapter from the one specified (if it’s “reading review #4,” it MUST be about chapter 4, right?)
And on and on.
And there you have it: the reason an adjunct flies into an orgasmic flight when one student shows she can write all of 2½ double-spaced pages coherently and with stylistic accuracy and, of all things, even manages to address all (not some) of the assignments competently.
Every now and again, you get one of those.