Monday, October 23
I went to class the other day a bit frustrated with the quality of my students' papers. One paper I'd just read had relatively good ideas, but the writing (cuz, lower case i, fragments, etc.) completely detracted from it. Unfortunately since I have them submit these assignments online, some people seem to think that they're IM-ing their friends. I don't teach English, but I expect students to write a quality essay. So I gave the students who had not yet submitted their papers a bit of advice - treat it like a real paper: with paragraphs, full sentences, and without the IM language.

Fast forward to today, when I'm sifting through all of them and grading those who heard my advice before writing. Almost all the papers (in an assignment, mind you, where the students are supposed to write about themselves) are in the third person, not the first ("I am").

This is what happens when you mix over-achieving freshman who actually know the difference between first and third person with a clueless professor who thinks students spend time on instant messenger.


jazzberry jam said...

Wait - I'm a little confused. So in an assignment about themselves, they wrote in the third person ("She is a freshman in college.")? Was that one of your instructions? And/or is that supposedly an aspect of a "well-written" or "formal" piece of prose? Did they get taught that in high school?

fraud, in denim said...

They were supposed to apply a concept to a personal experience. I didn't initially say how to do that, but assumed that people would write in the first person.

The students who worked (and it's obvious it was work) to avoid the first person wrote about freshman in general or something equally vague to avoid the first person because when I said no IM language some of them heard "I am" (assuming I meant the first person).

I assume that one of the reasons is because someone told them that it's not right to write in the first person in a formal paper (which I don't believe or teach, but seem to remember from somewhere in my pre-college past) and then the IM/"I am" confusion only made matters worse.

jazzberry jam said...

Ooooh! See, I wasn't making the IM/I am connection in reference to first person. IM dumb.

strawberries said...

oh dear, poor students!
i can't stop laughing at this one...
and trying to think of what in the world they wrote for you.

fraud, in denim said...

Okay... it didn't end up being a ton of students, just a handful. It was pretty funny, though.

Poppy Red said...

Funny story! I teach a personal narrative class (that is, *all* of the essays in the class are about the students' personal experiences), and one of the students actually asked early on whether or not it was okay to use first person. That's how pervasive the weird fake rule about not using the first person in formal writing is.

Also, I sympathize with the sad state of grammar and punctuation due to the internet/IM culture. The poor apostrophe is dying rapidly.

Turquoise Stuff said...

This was a really funny read. But I do feel badly for those students who didn't get it. I wonder if they wondered, or if it was "clear" to them that you'd meant third person. And if it wasn't "clear" then what could you have done to get them to ask you.

So are you going to get back to this point in the next class and address it directly head on (maybe with some writing on the board:)?

fraud, in denim said...

I think I'll say something in the next class.

When I made the brief gripe about the lack of quality of the papers I'd received and the IM language it was in the few minutes before the students started an exam. I'm sure that being hyped up on nerves exacerbated any fuzziness and only one person thought to clarify as she was leaving (and I thought that surely she must be the only one to think that so made no effort to correct it via email).

In all honesty, the people who cared enough to try to write in the third person were still some of the best papers because they listened to what I said about these being real college papers.

I'm a big believer in grading for ideas, but the recent display is disgusting. I teach at a school that's supposed to be the cream of the crop and students are turning in papers that haven't been proofread, with simple mistakes and typos (I mean like typing las instead of last and lugged instead of luggage), not to mention the causal internet speak. As I address that, I'll address the IM/"I am" misunderstanding.

Orange Ina said...

What's the "causal internet speak"?

Regarding instructions before an exam, I try never to say anything substantive about anything but the upcoming exam. I just figure they can't pay attention to anything else. If I have something that I really need to tell everyone, I will email the class. Just a thought.

fraud, in denim said...

"See i was tired cuz id been with a girl all night."

I usually do email, and should have. I had just come from reading the above paper and was a little emotionally charged. I definitely learned my lesson - a number of them, in fact.

Thanks, everyone. Now let's move on so my secret's not up there calling out my identity.