The answer is not to stop assigning papers…

I just ran across this in my Facebook feed: The End of the College Essay.

It makes the argument that because college students hate writing papers and college teachers hate grading them, professors should simply stop assigning them (except for in classes specifically about writing) and use exams–written and oral–instead.

This suggestion totally skirts the issue.

If the writing was meaningful and relevant and authentic and mirrored writing that people actually do in the world beyond the walls of a classroom, students would care to do it. Fake writing in college AND high school classes happens when students are playing the game of school and just doing whatever they need to do to get the grade, to get the credit, to get the degree, to move on to whatever is next.

I am doing everything I can to step outside of that old and tired game.

Writing is important, people. It’s practice in thinking. In communication. In putting words to the thoughts rolling around in our heads. We understand when we write, when we struggle to put the words down, when we endeavor to make sense of things. And students, college and high school, WILL do this work when it matters to them.

The answer to the problem identified in this article is to dramatically change the way we handle writing in school. Not grading it is a start. Giving students lots of choice about what they write about is important too. Seeking out models of real writing in the world beyond the classroom as mentor texts helps to prove to students that writing matters in authentic ways.

Substituting exams for writing would certainly mean less time spent on grading and it would probably make teaching simpler. But it won’t make the classes more meaningful for students. Teaching writing well is difficult, including all the work a teacher must do to convince students that it matters to them.

But we must do this work.


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3 Responses to The answer is not to stop assigning papers…

  1. Kelly (Oyer) Schmucker says:

    I absolutely agree with this, Dr. Z! I often think about how much I learned about writing in your APE class. Now I am in graduate school and I so appreciate it. I just finished a long paper this semester. I worked really hard on it because I wanted it to be an excellent paper, not just a paper to get a grade. It was hard and tiring! But my professor said it was excellent. She would like to find a professional conference to submit it to so I can present it. I am so flattered and intimidated by the suggestion, but also excited. I think this is a great example of how writing for the real world is so much more rewarding and exciting than writing for a grade. Yes, the grade is nice, but the knowledge that my writing is preparing me well for my field is even better!

    Thanks for all you do!

    • DocZ says:

      Thanks for reading, Kelly! You should definitely submit your work whenever possible. Conferences have always pushed my thinking in interesting ways.

  2. Bravo! I love your take on this, even as I widdle it down at the primary level where we write letters with the intention of actually sending them out to a defined target audience. We write essays considering submission requirements and many choose to send them on and we write for presentation with the clear intent on sharing our passions. My students know that each and everything they write has a higher purpose. Nothing they turn in will ever sit idly in a basket of forgotten papers to then be coveted by a teacher who will likely be the only one who reads it and sends the ideas packing in each student’s take home folder. We display our work, share out work, and critique one another’s work. I myself recently self-published my first novel and brought my students along on the journey over the last two years of agonizing revisions, critiquing sessions all they way to where the project stands today in respectable form on Amazon. We celebrate the launch together this Tuesday on site at the school where I teach and seeing my students play a role in this dream come true has not only been an incredible learning experience for me, but my students have walked away knowing that we write because we love to and we need
    to share our stories!

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