Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, June 13, 2015

What I Want Essays To Do

I tried a Google Site for education/teaching stuff this past year and hated it, so I'm migrating the teaching posts I put there here.

posted Dec 31, 2014, 5:52 AM by Karra Shimabukuro
I recently read a post title "History Essay Checklist" in which the early career scholar/teacher writes an essay TO his students as to what he's looking for when he grades essays.
This got me thinking for two separate reasons. The first was I've already identified that I want to both give more/better feedback to my students and insert more scaffolding activities into the course so by the time we get to the assignment they are better prepared. The second thing that struck me was the idea of transparency. Why aren't we always this specific with our students about what we're looking for? Many of us give rubrics (which tend to be written in an incomprehensible language) or provide assignment guidelines (which are better but still don't address a lot of the things we ACTUALLY grade on). Last semester transparency with students was one of the things I stressed with the TAs. Tell students WHY their papers get graded on Sundays. WHY topic sentences are important. WHY you chose to design the assignment that way. This helps you clarify your pedagogy and helps students see our class as a community, and us as human beings with real lives.
For example, my students know that Fridays are my #DevilDiss writing days, so I don't work on that day. On the flip side, I used to have assignments due by midnight Friday. When I checked in with them about how the assignment went (another key thing to add to your teaching repertoire) they said they felt rushed, like they didn't have enough time. So we compromised. I told them that I graded on Sundays, so I could get them back to them right after the weekend, so I couldn't give them the whole weekend, but I could push the deadline to midnight Saturday, giving them an extra-non class day to work. This worked out great- they felt as though they'd been heard, it didn't hurt me, and they got the extra time.

I have a Feedback Cheat Sheet that I use when grading, and I provide this to the students as a way of translating their papers when they get it back.
When I hand assignments back (and on Blackboard) I give general feedback- issues I noticed across the board, things to work on. But I really want to do this BEFORE the assignment gets written, to be clearer about WHAT makes a good essay/paper. So I was thinking in my assignment guidelines adding a more narrative paragraph that talks about what I'm looking for in the essay (similar to what Gosling does in his post).
What about you- what do you do to ensure students understand what is asked of them?

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