I just finished grading the first essays in my introductory class. I asked my students to summarize the argument in an article I choose from the Wall Street Journal, explaining the economics principles behind it. This assignment requires (I hope) a fair amount of thought, but once that is complete, not that much writing in terms of pages.
Grading economics papers may be different from grading papers in English composition, since I need to assess both the content and the quality of the presentation–I know this is a false dichotomy but it’s something I tell my students when we talk about what I am looking for in their papers.
Also, since I am not an English professor and so not “officially” a writing teacher I may be speaking out of turn here. Please let me know if I am.
I found myself categorizing the students in three ways: the authors seem to be good writers, the authors seem to be poor writers, and the authors seem to be able to write capably with sufficient effort. (I know I may be rushing to judgment on the basis of one assignment, but this is not a new issue for me.)
My position has always been that writing is a skill that can be learned with practice. It’s certainly worked for me, I think, though I’ve always been considered a decent writer. So here is my question: For a long time, I’ve wondered if anything I do actually improves the writing in my students. I’m not feeling particularly depressed today. I just wonder if student writers, good, poor or in-between, get better as a result of my assignments. More specifically, I wonder if a student can improve enough to change categories. I’ll admit I haven’t looked carefully at this question, and perhaps the effect is too small to measure on the basis of one semester’s work. What I do know is that I get students in my upper level courses, even seniors, whose writing I still classify as poor.
Anyone care to comment?