Re: grading ourselves to death

Beth W. Baldwin (bobaldwi@HAMLET.UNCG.EDU)
Thu, 5 Sep 1996 16:32:39 -0400

On Wed, 4 Sep 1996, Jeffrey R Galin wrote:

> First might be a good idea to see what
> our students are doing when they leave us. I haven't seen any writing
> that follows where students go and what they do, nor what they think they
> need from school after they have got out.

I'll bet you can get some of this information from your institution's
alumni office. You can at least find out what students are doing after
graduation in many cases. Your office of admissions probably has done
some sort of study as well. I'm not sure about the survey-type study
that asks students to reflect back on what they think they got out of
college study (or didn't get).

> With this info in hand, I'll
> bet that students will need to be effective information processors,
> manage large volumes of inforamation and find what they need quickly.
> I'll bet they will still need strong communications skills, collaborative
> work experience, and the ability to consciously transfer effective writing
> practices from one context to another.

You're right about them needing strong communication skills. How many
want-ads have you seen lately that didn't include the ever-popular "strong
communication skills a must." Few are so specific as to say either
"written" or "verbal" communication skills. I believe it's the verbal
skill they're after on a general level, mostly because collaborative work
and teamwork is emphasized in many contemporary environments (another
argument for requiring a little collaborative work in the classroom) and
verbal skills make for successful collaboration. Written skills are
usually job/discipline specific. I'm basing my opinions here on my work
with industry.

Generally speaking, how many people do you know outside of academia who
actually write anything other than occasional letters and memos at work.
I personally know no one who is not a student or an academic who actually
writes an essay at any time for any reason. Your average citizen (which
most of our students will be) has much greater use for good general
communication skill that can be applied to either writing or speaking.
Based on my observations and experience, I would say that writing
instruction that assumes the future usefulness of written communication to
citizens is a little out of touch with reality. Personally, I adjust my
teaching practice so that writing is a means to a more general end --
good communication. You write what you'd say because then you can see it
and critique it.

But, we don't often think of our students as future citizens. We want to
think of them as workers of some sort (white collar of course) or as
creative writers or scholars. In each case, their writing demands would
be different. But no matter what they end up pursuing as a career, they
*will* be citizens.

Our university mission statement suggests that we teach citizens. The
mission of our comp department reflects that mission (as opposed to
teaching academic essays, personal essays, etc. etc.). Beyond that,
there's plenty of room for creative practice in the classroom. This
means that some of our instructors are committed to grades and some
wish they could be dispensed with. Nevertheless, they are responsible for
reflecting upon their practice and answering the kind of questions that
bridge the gap between the present (what happens in the classroom) and
the future (what happens to our students as a result of our practice).

It's a cinch that folks will disagree -- it's the ongoing conversation
that presses us to reflect upon our practice that counts.


Beth Baldwin, Ph.D. *
Office of Continuing Education *
University of North Carolina at Greensboro *
Greensboro, NC 27412-5001 *
910-334-5301, ext. 44 * *