it’s never them

I was talking to a friend about teaching, and in the context of his experience in the classroom he quoted a comedian’s line about doing stand-up: “It’s never them.” In other words, if you bomb, it’s your fault.

So far this semester, I have difficulty getting students to write good papers, by which I mean papers that feel like the students cared about them when they wrote them. Class discussions are great, and then the papers come in and … not so great. What am I doing wrong? I can provide more information if anyone wants to engage in a dialogue about this.

How do you get your students to write good papers?

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2 thoughts on “it’s never them

  1. Are there two different issues here? The reason I ask is that I often feel like my project team members are doing bad work because they don’t care. However, it’s often the case that they don’t have a good understanding of the mechanics of the tasks they’re performing, or a clear grasp of my expectations. I’m sure you’ve communicated your expectations, but could their subsubstandard work be a product of poor writing skills?

  2. George,
    What is bad about the papers? Grammar, style, inconsistencies in argumentation, difficulties in shifting from reporting or describing a position, to analysis, to proposal of their own position?
    What are the markers of caring about what one writes? Expressing sincerety, expressing passion.
    Hmmm don’t these questions and themes relate to your work on the Methodists?
    Mini exercise:
    Transcription of a tape or digital recording
    [reminded of this by David Silver’s comments to Matt Kirshenbaum’s blog entry quoting an interview with an author who claims to have written (but necessarily revised) a long novel with a fountain pen]
    Second mini exercise:
    Get them to do an audio-record of the best bits of what they have written (or read the best excerpt aloud in class).
    As the experience of voicing gets connected to the experience of writing, they may overcome an ingrained timidity of assuming authorial authority or an oratorial stance. Face to face discussion because of social mores has turn taking built in. If writing is a form of preaching, I might venture that the students are fearful of testifying, stirring up the reader, moving their audience. Okay, let’s be less tentative: eros has not been let loose. Rather difficult, when writing for the teacher, to maintain an agonistic stance implied by wanting to move that which has not yet been moved. Ask them to write to make you cry.

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