Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Things I Cannot Explain...

Wyatt is winding up a semester at school this week.  I can (and regularly do) check his progress online. He knows this.  We talk about how things are going.

So when I saw the D+ I was a little surprised.

He'd written an essay - a comparison paper - based on the two "books" they've read in English class.  And I use the term "books" rather loosely as the first, while it is a chapter book, is labeled 4.0 (which means the text could be read independently by the average student beginning fourth grade), and the second was a comic book (3.3 - third grade, third month).

To be fair, there are some wonderful books written at that level.  C.S. Lewis' Narnia series comes to mind, or the Redwall books.  Writing that draws you in through wonderful story-telling and vivid description.  Themes that encourage you to be better, or that challenge your thinking.  Not so these books.  Blech.  Playground vernacular at best.  And it's not as if the subject matter corresponds to the reading level (violence, profanity, racism, masturbation, alcoholism, etc.) either.  Yikes.

So Wyatt wrote his paper.  I proof-read it and helped him type it up.  I might've given it a C, really, because I thought he missed the larger themes... but I'm an adult, and I can't expect him to see what I see.  Still, the D surprised me, even with the +.

His English teacher has a policy that (if they're meeting deadlines) students can revise their work to get it up to the grade they want, so I "encouraged" Wyatt to have another try at it.  I figured his teacher would've given him some helpful comments, some constructive criticism on his writing.

And you know what it was?  He needed a better topic sentence for one of his paragraphs, and all the rest was formatting.  Indent here, not there.  Too many spaces here, too few there.  Etc.

And that raised his grade to an A.


I'm not arguing with the value of following instructions.  If the teacher wants your paper formatted a certain way, you do it.  No question.  Get with the program.

But what value does his writing have?

The teacher left NO comments on the content of his paper, or the thought he put into it, to praise or to point out problems.  No challenge to think more deeply.  No encouragement to articulate his thoughts better.  Nothing.



Joyful Reader said...

That is one of the most frustrating parts about public school. Drives me crazy. Our son has a hard time putting his thoughts into words on paper (ADHD). I feel I am a little tougher on him than his english teacher. If they don't set the bar a little higher he won't work to do better. Then our daughter who is in honors classes being taken for college credit, those teachers are more like you described. The girl worked hours on a paper and only got a C. No feed back on why. {{sigh}}

TICE! :)

The T1000 said...

It's always annoying when my kids get behind on there schoolwork I have to not let them go to movies and stuff like that

sara said...

The only thing I can think of is that the teacher warned the kids if it's not formatted such and such a way it's an automatic D. Stupid, but I had professors like that - they wouldn't even read them if they didn't look a certain way.

melanie said...


Of course, it is much EASIER to grade/critique mechanics... :p

Crystal in Lynden said...

Double *sigh*.

Choate Family said...

That's good encouragement to be tough on my kids' writing assignments!

Rebecca D said...

Grading English is so subjective and it seems to vary wildly from teacher to teacher. During Allison's Junior year she has taking English 11 & Creative Writing 12 at the same time. I didn't know it at the time but on one project she turned in the same essay to both teachers! ("I swear it fit both assignments mom!") and she got a 100 on one and a 78 on the other. Thankfully she got to make up the 78 but it wasn't content but format that she got dinged on... AND it was in the creative writing class!

Ann said...

That's so sad to me.

Wilma said...

I am a retired high school English teacher. I had mostly 11th graders. When I graded themes (essays), I gave three grades on each assignment: content, format and mechanics. I do not remember if the grades were weighted, but I don't believe they were. With this system, each part of the assignment was important. If I found that any of the three were lacking in the majority of the class, then I needed to reteach.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Wilma, that seems MUCH more sensible. If that's too much work for today's teachers, even to divide it into TWO portions - the content, and the "GPS" (grammar, punctuation, spelling) and format.

I understand that a teacher wants a paper formatted a certain way, then that's the way you need to do it. I have no problem with that. But we came away feeling like the content of his writing was not given any attention.

Oh well.

The dB family said...

Really!? I find that a little strange -- okay a lot strange. I understand that grammar, punctuation, following the instructions are important, but even more so, the content! The content is what makes an essay an essay. Where is the fun in writing then? As you say, "oh well." Hopefully he will have a different (dare I say better more passionate) teacher next time.