One thousand five hundred and ninety six...*

There is some math you ought not do.  Never subtract your age from your life expectancy.  Never tot up the number of hours you spend grading papers, and never do that depressing little back of the envelope calculation to discover how many individual papers you will have assigned, read and graded by semester's end.  The number you arrive at for any of these questions is far too depressing. 

My provost occasionally reminds faculty that we put the assignments in the course; we can just as easily take them out.  This is technically true, but I have to assign a lot of writing if I really want the students to engage the texts, ideas and subjects I teach.  Nothing else holds them as accountable as having to wrestle their understanding into words.

And the students secretly know this.  In my first-year courses, for example, I often have the students design a mock quiz during the first few weeks of class.  I divide them up into groups of four and assign each group to come up with quiz questions for the material we covered at our last meeting.  One group creates true/false statements, another multiple choice questions, and still another a series of terms to be matched to examples in a corresponding column.  And one lucky group is assigned the task of developing take-home essay questions.  I tell the class to make these quizzes as tough as possible.  And each group places its quiz  on a large piece of poster paper, which I affix to the four walls of the classroom. 

Then I ask the students to stand next to the quiz that would prove most challenging.  Hands down, the wall with the take-home essay questions has 80 to 90 percent of the class standing in front of it.  So I ask the class why they chose this one (and they always do).  The response never varies: "This one means you really have to think."

"Um, yes.  And that's why there's so much writing in this course."  

I just don't see the same results unless I make students write and write a lot.  I also think I need to respond to what they tell me.  Writing is an act of communication.  If there is not someone at the other end listening and responding, what's the point?  It's a lot of work.  It eats up hours and hours of my life.  I wish there were another way to get the same result.

Sigh.

Now back to the stack.


* Ye'p, that's the number I shouldn't have calculated this semester (and it doesn't count revisions).

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