And may there be "some" moaning of the bar

 
What to do with students who moan?  Should you empathize, treat their kvetching with indifference or slap it down quick?  Yesterday I got a chorus of how many more papers do we have to write in this class?  This is a lot of work and I've got so much going on.  I said I understood and I try to be reasonable in my expectations, but "you can't see progress if don't do the workouts."
 
Here's my expectation in the class where I heard the moaning: read the material before class and compose a typed, well-supported response to a directed reading prompt.  This is the ticket into class that shows they are ready to discuss the material.  Readings are selections from primary texts and never more than 8-10 pages in length, often shorter.  They are dense but brief.  The responses are low stakes assignments.  So long as the students are wrestling with the texts and anchoring their summaries and inter-textual connections in citations, they receive full credit.
 
At the end of each unit (there are four in the semester), students compose a short synthesis paper or what amounts to a five paragraph essay integrating multiple texts read during the unit to support a claim.  I give over one 80-minute class period before each unit paper so we can walk through the evidence, write and critique their theses and begin the drafting process.  I also make myself available to comment on drafts the entire week before the assignment is due and I do my damnedest to get comments back within 24 hours.  Once they receive a grade (which is returned in one week, often sooner), they can revise their effort as many times as they want until the end of the semester.
 
There are no exams, quizzes or other assignments.  They write, write, write, and I give them feedback, feedback, feedback.  I often allow them to begin writing in class so they are not doing it at the last minute. 
 
Is this too much?  I don't think so.  Does it require real mental effort?  You bet.  Good, evidence-based writing always does.  And here is the real fons origin of the moaning.  What my students want at this point in the semester is the path of least resistance, and, as John Dewey once remarked, "The path of least resistance and least trouble is a mental rut already made." 
 
On one level, I do empathize with students.  Just as they want to plug in easy answers to straightforward right-or-wrong questions, I sometimes wish I could pass out the Scantron sheets and have the faculty secretary run the results through the grading doo-hickey.  Face it: there are a lot easier ways to do this job than asking students to construct ideas, make connections, do the readings and have personal reactions to them. 
 
So what to do about the moaning?  I guess you should see it as a positive sign.  So long as you know that the work you are assigning them is actually stretching them (and not just stressing them), the moaning means you're probably on the right track.  It's a good thing.
 
 

Comments

Anti-Dada said…
It's so hard for me to imagine writing being a harder task than taking a test. If I'm writing then I control my own destiny, but a test handed out by you, Professor, is going to drive me nuts because I'm not entirely sure what material will be tested. In addition, writing allows for creativity; I'm going to remain interested because, well, I like my own thoughts so damn much. A test, though? Crap, I have to figure out what YOU are thinking and there's just no way to know with any certainty because there's much that you might think about a text that I wouldn't no matter how much time I spend with it. I say slap them upside the head and let them know how easy they have it. When they have to start working for a living they are going to realize that they squandered the few years of their lives that allowed for autonomy and self-directed thinking ... no, few will realize that because they'll be brain-dead from performing the same mundane tasks over and over. So, yeah, slap the fools, throw books at them, raise your hands and holler to the heavens! Or give them a ripe, juicy peach and tell them, "This is your last chance to savor the food you eat."

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