Sunday, January 31, 2010

Remedial Writing

Prof. Jack Miller writes about his experience teaching remedial writing at Normandale Community College (Bloomington, MN):

"Whatever their backgrounds, their writing problems fit into relatively few categories. Not surprisingly, they have little understanding of grammar and see it as a set of arbitrary “rules” concocted by sadistic pedants harboring grudges against the young. Punctuation is an equally baffling and dangerous area. There exists little understanding of it as a set of signals that facilitate the reader’s comprehension. Vocabulary is weak, perhaps stemming from the legions of teachers since elementary school who have feared above all that their students might suffer confusion or dismay.

Some are not sure what is done in the classroom—how to behave. They don’t know when or how to take notes. They perennially miss due dates, drift in late, drift out during the break not to return. They sabotage themselves and then seem to expect forgiveness and accommodation from their professors. Someone showing up one day after having been missing for five or six weeks, only vaguely recognized by the professor, will assume that a way can and will be found to bring him up to speed and on track with the rest of the class. Is all this the result of repeatedly being forgiven in the past? I think so.

Understanding the rudimentary conventions of research is minimal. Few are aware of what or how to quote from a source, or how and why to credit that source. Knowledge of plagiarism is far from certain, and finally there is the oft-noted paucity of a body of shared knowledge, thereby inhibiting what assumptions a writer can make about a reader. More than ever before, students live in an intellectual world of their own, a personal world where every individual’s baseline is likely to be different from that of most others and coincides with few. Coupled with extremely spotty historical knowledge, the factors outlined here make for a classroom of wide diversity, though not necessarily the “rich” diversity that college catalogues claim for their campuses."

Capital Capitalism

Could this be a factor? (Click to enlarge.)


At 1/31/2010 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

By my calculation, the weighted average is 1.83 and not 1.79. I'm assuming that an A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, and F = 0.
Perhaps I missed something, but that's the number I get.
However, the overall points is taken.

At 1/31/2010 12:03 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Try it again:

(.05 x 4) + (.23 x 3) + (.32 x 2) + (.26 x 1) = 1.79

At 1/31/2010 12:07 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Note also that the percentages listed do NOT add up to 100%, but 98%, most likely due to rounding.

At 1/31/2010 12:51 PM, Blogger Harrison Brookie said...

What's surprising about that CBS poll? Isn't it just a good bell curve?

At 1/31/2010 1:02 PM, Anonymous Pantso said...

Sadly, there is some truth to this essay all the way up from proprietary schools to community colleges all the way up to the top public universities in the nation.

The attendance, attitude, and effort improve with school quality, but the writing skills suck at every level. While teaching at top ranked public universities, I would estimate about 5% of the students could write a well-formed research paper. Grading papers and essay questions was painful.

However, if I were to look at my own papers from college I'd likely rate them relatively low too. Writing skills come from practice and by READING good writing. Much of that came, for me, after college.

I can thank Catholic school for giving me the foundation for good writing although I remember thoroughly hating it when I was forced to do it.

At 1/31/2010 2:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is hope. These kids can always become journalists.

At 1/31/2010 5:46 PM, Anonymous EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy said...

"the weighted average is 1.83 and not 1.79"


"Note also that the percentages listed do NOT add up to 100%, but 98%, most likely due to rounding."

Which suggests that Anonymous normalized his average, and we're all on the same page again.

At 1/31/2010 11:18 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

I suspect this really is not news as the percentage of those going to college increases one would expect the writing skill to decrease. Further new technology encourages poor use of English such as texting which in general believes that Samuel Johnson was a fuddy duddy. Note that before Johnson spelling was catch as catch can, anything went. Johnson wrote a dictionary and standardized spelling. Grammar also varied greatly before then as different dialects did it differently.
Also it is interesting that school (english class) writing and business writing bear very little resemblance and they would do better to teach business writing, and perhaps powerpoint writing, since in business no one has time to read much or write much (other than emails which are in versions of something that bears some resemblance to english)

At 2/01/2010 8:09 AM, Anonymous geoih said...

My wife is an 8th grade English teacher in a public school and she is constantly bombarded by angry parents that don't understand why their "4.0" children are only getting C's in her class. All she's doing is requiring the kids be able to spell and write grammatically, something they apparently haven't been taught before (I've seen some of the papers). Her school's administrators give her nothing but grief over it. Apparently her peer teachers don't have a problem with the low standards. She's to the point where she is either just going to wash her hands of it by either giving away A's for substandard work, or change careers.

At 2/01/2010 10:43 AM, Blogger Dave said...

I don't get the general point trying be inferred here. People having to take remedial community college writing after all are hardly a random sample of all students.

That their skills are low is to be expected.


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