Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Depressing paper

It is paper-marking time. Last night I read the most atrocious paper I have ever seen, no exaggeration. This is from a student in an upper-year course. She's in her third or fourth year. She had given me a draft of the paper a few weeks ago, and I'd gone over it with a fine-toothed comb, correcting grammar and sentence structure. I'd also typed up a sheet of comments and directions on ways to fix the disaster that it was. (She is not an ESL student, by the way.) And she was going to go to the Academic Skills Centre to get help. So she handed it in, and it is no better - possibly, it is worse. It is completely unintelligible. Also profoundly offensive at times.

What depresses me is that she's gotten this far. And I think of the course of mine that she's in, which is a theory course, and which I pitch fairly high because there are a lot of exceptional thinkers in there. I can see now that she is getting absolutely nothing from it. That she doesn't even grasp the principles taught in the first year, let alone in an upper-year course like this. This essay assignment was to use materials from the course, and she's completely misinterpreted them, even though they were discussed in class. That feels bad, frankly - to know that I am completely failing to communicate with at least one person in there. Possibly others. Sigh. I can't *wait* to see their take-home mid-year exam.


MaggieMay said...

I know exactly how you feel. I'm teaching a high-level theory course right now, and this one guy turns in papers that are... Well, it's *clear* that he doesn't understand a word of the reading, or a word of what I say in class.

The only thing that comforts me is at least he's not plagiarizing...

Mimi said...

I share the pain also! First time grading, second year paper and I am shocked. Did you know that Canada is not a federation and-or that federalism created capitalism in Canada (haaa!?!)
Makes me a bit anxious about my own papers!

Hilaire said...

Don't let it make you wonder about your own should do exactly the opposite!!
I once learned from a student about the socialist paradise that is the United States of America. Ah, yes.

Mimi said...

If I may, considering that you and your reader have extensive experience in reading student's paper:
What's a TA to do when a student just can't understand and send you the worst paper ever (structure, grammar, presentation, bad sources and the rest) for comments ?

How honest can you be when you know the student is really in a bad situation since it's due extremely soon, can't quit the class, and has never, since the class started, understood comments from you and the Prof ?


Hilaire said...

Sorry to be replying so late, Mireille...

I think you have to be honest. But it's the language you choose to use that matters. Always say something nice to open your comments - sometimes it's really hard to think of something nice, but you can pull something out. Then move into the negatives, and talk about "the paper" instead of "you".

But I do think it's important to be honest. The student may not have understood comments from you or the prof...but that is their responsibility, ultimately.

Hope that helps!