Monday, October 20, 2014

Pedantry or self-preservation?

It's grading season--wait, it's always grading season, isn't it?--and as the papers come flooding in, it's inevitable that we'll get some of these:
--papers with no page numbers
--electronic papers called things like "myroughdraft.doc" or the ever-popular "paper1.doc."
--papers with no Works Cited
--papers with no names
--papers with Works Cited in a separate file
--papers in some odd format that can't be opened
--Works Cited in some peculiar numbered list, which we don't use in MLA

Now, on the papers themselves, we're used to explaining, or not explaining if you believe in minimal marking, when there's a comma splice or a fragment or a missing apostrophe. I am sometimes told I'm the first person ever to point these out to the student, which, if true, is kind of sad and inspiring at the same time (as in they're better off to learn about it now).  Along with commenting on the contents, which is the more important part, it's part of our jobs to note these.  We grade holistically, so we're not dinging them for points all the time.

But those format things in the list above used to make me bang my head on the desk.  Why would they not follow the guidelines that I'd given to them? I'm writing a final comment, and I have to number the pages myself to say "On p. 4"--why, oh why, is it up to me?

[Edited to add, in light of Tenured Radical's recent column: I don't make fun of them for this, or think they are doing it to spite me, or think it reflects on them as people in any way.  Anyone who's ever filled out a grant application or any other kind of form can testify that when you're trying to get it done, you'll always find some piece that you find arbitrary. That puts you and the students on the same level ground about requirements.

No, my issue is strictly whether it makes more work for me or not.]

Then I got smart.  The papers are still graded holistically, but here's a test: does it make more work for me if Stu Dent didn't complete the format things? Then Stu Dent gets a gentle reminder on the first paper, and after that, it's -1 for those things. It's not enough of a penalty to hurt them, but it's enough to get their attention--and it seems to work.

Some would call it pedantry.  I call it the "you make me work to do something you were supposed to do, you pay" rule, or self-preservation.

4 comments:

JaneB said...

Sounds like a good plan to me!

nicoleandmaggie said...

You could always institute the "wrong format won't get any grade at all" rule. That way it mirrors the real world of grants, journal submissions, etc. "I won't grade anything that's not in the right format, and if getting it in the right format makes your paper late, then see the late-paper policy in the syllabus."

Janice said...

A very good plan indeed. I have no problems with the electronic submission weird names because I accept computer files only on the platform and it renames every file for me!

undine said...

JaneB--thanks!
nicoleandmaggie--I used to try that, but I spent more time (and worry) contacting them, getting the new paper, etc., than the assignment was worth. If I absolutely can't open it, I go that route, though.
Janice--What CMS does that? It sounds like a keeper!