Today's featured guest blogger is Shane Bradley, Administrative Dean, Writing Program Director, and Assistant Professor of English at Erskine College.
I entered my first writing course as a college student with the smug assurance that my rural Northeast Georgia education had given me all the skills necessary to be academically successful after high school. At 8:00 A.M. on that inaugural Monday morning, English 101 (Composition) provided my first taste of higher education. The professor, a short, astute woman, stood at the front of class, her blue blazer and matching skirt affording her an air of reality that should have awakened me to the fact that I wasn’t in Elberton any more.
“Does everyone know what a comma splice is?” she asked after providing us an introduction to her expectations for our out-of-class writing assignments.
Like statues, we sat still. No one said a word, each of us complacently invisible.
“Does anyone have any questions about splices?”
“Wonderful,” she sang. “This is indeed a first: A whole class of students prepared for college writing.”
The voice in my head screamed for me to say something, anything, but my anxiety about all these strange people in that strange place left me ignorantly dumbfounded.
“Your first essay will be due in two weeks. You will lose twenty points for each comma splice.” She paused. “And no one has any questions about splices?”
Two and half weeks later she returned my first college essay with a shocking zero written in red on the first page. I had made five comma splice errors – in the first three paragraphs. Devastated, I felt myself on the verge of tears.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only student that day to receive such a depressing grade on that first college writing assignment. As I looked at the woeful faces of my classmates, I saw that majority of us had indeed messed up in a big way.
“Now,” said a smirking professor. “Who would like to know what a comma splice is?”
A sea of hands shot toward the ceiling.
“Wonderful! Wouldn’t this have been so much easier had we done this on the first day?”
My professor graciously allowed her students to rewrite that first essay, and I am proud to say that not only did I become an expert on comma splices, but I also made an A on the rewrite.
Throughout my teaching career, I have heeded the tacit wisdom of my first college professor by allowing my students the option to rewrite or clean up essays that do not meet their (or my) expectations. This option, while one that requires me to work a little harder, pays bigger dividends in the end. The investment of time on both our parts (students and professor) on the early essays pays off when the papers take less time to read at the semester’s end.
The paper rewrite (or clean-up) produces several necessary outcomes for our students:
- Students take increased ownership of their writing, especially when a grade improvement is involved.
- Students’ understanding of their mistakes becomes more relevant when they can see measurable evidence of their efforts.
- Students begin to understand and use the rubric from a practical level instead of a theoretical or “in-one-ear-and-out-the-other” level.
The rewrite may not be for everyone. Warming up to it took me several semesters, but once I saw the benefits in my students’ writing, I realized I could not omit this necessary step in the writing process if my goal was to help my students become clearer, more effective writers.