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Posts Tagged ‘assignments

A few weeks ago, I shared how I provided feedback and graded assignments for an intensive course I facilitate. Short version: An intense course has intense assignments and my process for review and critique are intense.

That course has ended this semester and I am left with another set of assignments to process. The end-of-course essay is even more challenging, so I provide more time and space to do this.

Given that we are effectively in a lockdown to counter the spread of COVID-19, I thought it prudent to just tackle one assignment a day instead of my usual two. Spreading this out gives me something mentally stimulating to do every day.

I could go faster, but that would compromise the integrity of the grading process because I might be tempted to complete the race instead. Just like staying physically apart now for physical health, I keep my grading efforts a day apart for mental health.

Added after the fact: I have completed the grading ahead of schedule and well before the administrative deadline. I only have administrative tasks ahead. Here is looking forward to jumping through hoops!

I am in the middle of a particularly intensive fortnight of providing feedback on written assignments of future faculty. It does not help that this period coincides with the Lunar New Year period — a few assignments have not been submitted and I must work over the break so that the feedback is available this week.

But my gripe is not the fact that the LNY is a distraction or that others around me are celebrating while I work. I am keep getting reminded of three things that worry me about the writing ability of some learners at this level of higher education.

1. Not writing in paragraphs
I still get students who write in one big block of text.

Not only is the visual presentation uninviting to read, it indicates that the writers are not organised, take no care in writing, or have no concern for the reader.

This is my Number One worry because the course I facilitate is about learner-centred pedagogy. My constant refrain is “focus on the learner and learning, not just the teacher and teaching”. To do this, my students (future faculty) need to develop empathy for their own students.

Before they submit their assignments, I tell them to transfer this principle when they write. One piece of advice is not writing the way they speak, i.e., being concise instead of recreating verbal diarrhoea. Another is to write for the reader, i.e., realising that a reader is not in the same head space as the writer.

2. Lazy mistakes
No writing is perfect because people make mistakes. However, some mistakes can be avoided if writers proofread their work several times. If they do, they might detect basic errors like repeated words, e.g., “is is” or “to to”.

A form of laziness that results in mistakes is the refusal to learn grammar. For example, in lesson plan assignments I often come across writers who insist on using “feedbacks” as a noun instead of “feedback”.

If I offer you one or more instances of advice, both are feedback. The singular piece is feedback, the plural piece is also feedback and not feedbacks. It is like sheep: One sheep, two sheep, three sheep. No “sheeps”.

Sheep by jrigol, on Flickr
Sheep” (CC BY 2.0) by jrigol

3. Odd turns of phrases
Writers at this level often try to be high-sounding, but they come across as bad users of a thesaurus.

Some examples:



I share these examples not to make fun of my learners. I do not share their names and I blur the parts of their writing that are not relevant. I share to illustrate the problem.

The problem is also not just in their use of such odd turns of phrases; it is that their evaluators or even their supervisors turn a blind eye.

I would like to focus on the ideas presented in the assignments. To do that, those submitting assignments need to learn to chunk information logically in paragraphs, stop making lazy grammatical mistakes, and strive to write simply and directly. If they do, they communicate more clearly and then together we can focus on improving their ideas.

In the meantime, I provide mini lessons on the basics of writing by commenting in the assignments. I do this even though doing that it not officially my job. I have no problem being labelled a fussy fuddy-duddy if this means that I am a watchdog for academic quality and values.


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