So, how do you feel about agreeing to critique a student paper, at the student’s special request, a day or two before the paper is due? In other words, you’re asked to perform extra work, unpaid, for one student who is eager to maximize a grade but insecure about his or her ability to do the assignment as requested?
Here’s what I have: a very bright and eager student, one who calls herself a “visual learner.” She’s not a kid; this is a woman in her late 20s who undoubtedly feels all those worries and doubts that plague a returning student. But trust me: she’s very smart and once she finds her footing will do well.
My current pedagogical craze is the “reading response”: to get students to go so far as to read the textbook, I ask them to synopsize the chapter and then to apply some of the knowledge or principles the text presents to one of the chapter’s readings. To do so, they have to pull specific examples out of the reading selections to illustrate the chapter’s high points. This works well to demonstrate a) whether the classmate has read the material at all and b) how well he or she has understood it.
These are very short exercises worth 15 points apiece, and there are plenty of them.
Some classmates don’t quite get the idea of applying their understanding of the textbook lesson to the content of the reading selection, and so they’ll speak in generalities: “Ah, yes, in this essay Mencken demonstrates the uses of ethos, pathos, and logos.” Period. No clue to exactly where these astonishing phenomena occur.
Before I could even return the most recent pile of papers, Ms. Promising (as we’ll call her, because she surely is promising) spotted her score of 10 out of 15 on two of them in the e-gradebook. Alarmed, she e-mailed to ask what on earth she’d done wrong. So I had to dig out her papers (three of them), reread them, reread my comments, and type detailed explanations into a return e-mail.
This, you understand, is time-consuming, and for me, time is money. When I’m not using my time to earn a living, I’m trying to use it to enjoy living. Perhaps I’m unduly jealous of those uses of my time….
Next thing I know, she’s e-mailed back saying she didn’t do a very good job, it was all her fault (awww…), and on Monday would I please read her next set of reading responses and tell her what she needs to do to get As on them.
In class? before class? after class? FOR FREE?
Because that’s what it is: unpaid, FREE extra work.
More to the point, it’s unfair to the other students. If I’m going to give her special one-on-one tutoring, then I have to offer special one-on-one tutoring to ALL the students.
Isn’t that what the writing center’s for?
Well, okay, chances are the writing center is closed over the summer. But peer review would do the job, too.
Am I unreasonable for feeling that critiquing a single student’s paper in advance of the due date, so that she can maximize her scores by five points here and five points there, is a) unfair to the other classmates and b) unfair to me?