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Bret B

I have little to add, except I agree.

To the credit of the detractors, students *do* come in unmotivated and lazy much of the time. For whatever reason, a number of instructors have tacitly agreed to the disengagement compact (http://insocrateswake.blogspot.com/2011/02/academically-adrift-part-i.html), and thus the students have little opportunity for expert guidance in building the skills needed to write, read, and think well.

It does take work—and a lot of it—on both sides to opt out of the compact. When you're balancing your social life, teaching, researching, and perhaps even the job-hunt, the easiest to cut down on is grading and class preparation. No hassles with the deans or students makes one's life very easy.


timely: http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/01/16/essay-teaching-students-who-seem-unengaged


Thanks for that, Marcus! I have some questions. I work at a school where I too get many students who have severe writing deficiencies. How exactly do you get these students to write grammatically? The work that *this* would require (as opposed to the work required to help a student develop argumentative skills who already knows how to write) seems extremely great. I'd be curious to hear about any strategies you utilize.

Also, how many students do you have each semester? I have about 120. Similarly to you, I make my students write a paper which they can re-write (but only once), and I leave a ton of comments on their work to help them become better writers. The paper grading easily eats up 5-6 weeks out of my semester where I do nothing but grade papers and teach classes. So, I would be curious to hear about any strategies you have utilized to be a more efficient grader.

David Morrow

Anthony, there's a recent thread on that very topic over on In Socrates' Wake: http://insocrateswake.blogspot.com/2013/01/time-saving-tips-for-adjuncts.html

David Morrow

Thanks for this post, Marcus. It reminds me of R.M. Hare's claim to have never met an undergraduate who was a moral relativist.

I have to say that the "lazy, unmotivated student" trope doesn't fit very well with my experience either. In reading the Inside Higher Ed post that Anon 7:41 shared, I did recognize experiences that I've had with a few students, but those experiences aren't the norm for me. Plus, as one of the commenters on that post noted, we need to be cautious about generalizing from the students who come to our attention because of some problem.

On the other hand, perhaps what many faculty mean when they say that their students are lazy and unmotivated is simply that it requires a tremendous amount of effort to get the students to do much work (or to do good work). And that's probably true. But I doubt that it's only true of "kids today." I suspect that very few people will work hard at something when they don't understand the point of it. Most of our students (like most people) are not naturally excited by (most) philosophical questions. Most of our students (like most human beings) don't see any benefit to doing what we ask our students to do. So it's no surprise that they won't work hard unless we push them to do so.

Also, I fully intend to, um, borrow your "I'm here to make you better" line.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks, everyone, for the comments!

Anthony: Getting students to write grammatically can of course be very difficult. Here's one strategy I've used to good effect: I ask students to try to write like they *speak* -- as though they are just having a conversation with another person (I then tell them to go back and clean it up so it's less colloquial).

I think this strategy is effective because most (though by no means all!) students can speak relatively grammatically in person. The problem is that when they sit down to write, they see it as something completely different than what they do when they talk to someone. They write convoluted, ungrammatical, paragraph-long sentences with words they don't understand that are *nothing* like the way they would attempt to communicate in person with another living, breathing human being. So, I have them bring together. I have them treat writing as an out-growth of *speaking*. I've been utterly amazed at the improvements this can lead to. Just this past semester I had a female student whose first term paper was an unreadable disaster of epic proportions, I sat her down in my office, told her to explain to me what she was trying to summarize and argue in ordinary, intuitive language -- and she came back a couple of weeks later with a paper that knocked my socks off (well, it was a low B, but still, compared to what she had turned in previously, I was amazed!).

The other thing I do is have them write something short *every* day (they have paragraph-length daily reading response assignments to bring to class). Since I grade and correct the grammar in these with draconian rigor, they have a very strong incentive to work at it every day -- which leads to real improvement.

Finally, there are the unlimited re-writes of first term-papers -- which brings me to your question about the number of students I have. I teach three classes a semester, each with between 20-25 students: so, 60-75 students total. I fully recognize that a lot of my strategies just aren't feasible with 120 students (a situation I've been in before). As to what to do with 120 students, it's hard to say. It took me a couple of years of experimentation (and a lot of failed experiments!) to come up with the strategies I use in my situation. I suspect it would take a similar amount of time to work out which strategies work best with larger numbers of students. And perhaps there just aren't any that work quite as well in that context -- in which case I guess I would say it's not our students who are at fault so much as it is the fault of an educational system that presumes that one can teach writing and philosophy well in a large lecture hall. But I digress... ;)


Marcus: thanks for the thoughtful and informative response. I'm very impressed that you assign and grade daily writing response papers, even if they are just a paragraph long. Even with 60-75 students, that must take a lot of time. Kudos.

My load is 5/5, and like I said about 120 students per semester. I think I am doing some good by making them write one substantial philosophy paper that I give a lot of feedback on that they then revise (in addition to some quizzes and a final exam), but I'd prefer to have them write a lot more. Like you said, I need to experiment a little bit.

David: thanks for that link to In Socrates' Wake.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Anthony: yeah, it takes a ton of time, and I absolutely hate it. But it's the only thing I've found that works. Every time I've experimented with other alternatives (to lighten the burden on me), my students' work and engagement -- and my student evaluations -- have gone sharply down. There's just something about making them write something daily that is short and substantive that gets them "in the game".

Dan Dennis

Fascinating, and helpful. Thanks for posting it. And good for you for putting the thought in and working so hard.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for the kind words, Dan.

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