Posts Tagged ‘procrastination’

Whose Paper Is It, Anyway?

By Gretchen Panzer - Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 2:37pm

I had a session recently that made me question the line between helping a student with his or her paper and imposing one’s own writing process or opinions upon it. I’m a big fan of non-directive tutoring and think of myself as a helpful resource rather than as an authority figure, so it came as a shock when I realized that I sometimes feel personally responsible for the papers students bring to the Writing Center. But why should I feel that way when I’m a tutor, not the writer? Just whose paper is it, anyway?

In the session I’ve referred to, the student came in about an hour before her paper was due, and expected that we’d work on final edits rather than any major revisions. However, there was a glaring higher-order concern with her literary analysis: her thesis contained two main claims, but she only supported one of these claims in her paper. Simply deleting the unsupported claim was out of the question, since one of her two critical sources related solely to that claim, and she needed both sources for the assignment. I knew if it were my paper, I’d go back to the text to find evidence to support the second claim. When I suggested this, however, the student said she couldn’t do that—both because she didn’t have enough time and because she had not purchased/rented/checked out a copy of the text.*

At this point in the session, I was at a loss. The student decided to add a sentence to each of her body paragraphs that related to her second claim, but without any textual evidence for her claims I knew she would not get a high grade on her paper. No matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to help this student make her paper as strong as I wanted it to be. But even as I write this, I wonder why I felt responsible for making another student’s paper as strong as I wanted it to be, rather than simply wanting to make it stronger than it was before. The student was content with her draft before she brought it in to the Writing Center; after all, she only wanted me to polish it. So what was the problem?

I think I felt personally responsible for the grade this student was going to receive because I had the opportunity to help make that paper a solid, well-supported literary analysis, but the student hadn’t done her part by giving herself the time she would need to actually follow her consultant’s advice after the session. Usually I don’t have such a hard time dealing with last-minute appointments—but usually, these students really do just need to polish their work. In this particular session, part of me wanted to insist that the student go find a copy of the book in the library and gather evidence for her claims, but of course I can’t force students to put more effort into their work than they’re willing to give, or refuse to offer any other advice besides a method that would take more time than they have to work with.

What do you think—am I overreacting to the situation? Have you ever wanted to assume ownership of the student’s paper by directing the student to do exactly what you would do? Can a sense of responsibility for other students’ papers have positive effects, or does it just make us feel like lousy tutors when a paper ultimately doesn’t meet our personal standards? How much (if at all) should we lower our standards when dealing with last-minute appointments?

*This is perhaps the biggest mystery of all—where did she get all the quotes she’d already cited in her paper if she didn’t have access to a copy of the literary work she was analyzing? I think my brain exploded a little when she said this.

 

Procrastination: The Buck Stops… Where?

By Gretchen Panzer - Friday, October 21, 2011, 1:15pm

We’ve all been there: it’s the night before your assignment is due, and you have a rough outline—or maybe only some notes—that you need to turn into a complete paper by 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. Your professor is going to grade whatever you manage to churn out tonight as a final draft, when it really should be considered a first draft (and a rather rushed one, at that).

We’ve all been here, too: it’s 1:00 p.m. and you’re working in the Writing Center. A student comes in to meet with you; her professor is requiring her to visit the Writing Center before turning in this assignment. You ask when the paper is due, and she tells you it’s due at 1:40 when the class starts. She has about five minutes after the appointment ends to edit the paper before turning it in.

In “Barbarians at the Gate,” Paul Hanstedt observes that “few professors require preliminary drafts, thus allowing students to ‘write’ papers the night—or even the hour—before they are due, and it’s no wonder that the work faculty receive in upper-level courses often isn’t as good as what composition instructors receive during the first year” (Hanstedt, et. al. 331). Similarly, Gary Hollis, a chemist who taught a first-year writing course, emphasizes that “Assignments must be structured to thwart the eleventh-hour approach to writing. . . . Most people are procrastinators” (Hanstedt, et. al. 340).

I strongly agree with Hanstedt and Hollis. I’ve helped many students who come in to the Writing Center as close as possible to the time they need to turn in their paper, and I’ve also had to write papers at the last minute myself. I hate procrastinating, but sometimes it’s necessary—such as when I have four final papers to write in one week. The sad truth is that I’m usually too busy to devote time to anything that doesn’t have a definite due date; unless a professor sets specific deadlines for the various stages of a paper, I probably won’t do more than outline until it’s time to write the final draft.

Because I know firsthand that even students with the best intentions find it difficult to set their own deadlines, I think it’s good practice for professors to guide the writing process at the undergraduate level. Several of my professors* set deadlines for thesis proposals and/or rough drafts. Sometimes these even involve an in-class peer review, a mandatory Writing Center appointment, or both. I used to think this approach crossed the line into micromanaging—shouldn’t college students be able to manage their own time?—but I now deeply appreciate it when a professor sets deadlines for more than one stage of the writing process. Having someone else review my work is particularly helpful, and I know that sometimes I wouldn’t be able to carve out the time for it if my professor didn’t require it.

What’s your take on procrastination and the writing process? Should it be the students’ responsibility to make time for multiple drafts and peer review? Or do you agree with Hanstedt and Hollis that professors should structure their assignments to prevent procrastination and to teach the writing process to students who may not have been asked to write in stages before? What can we as Writing Center tutors do to help students to manage their time effectively?

* All of these professors teach English rather than another discipline, which I find interesting—especially after our discussions about whose responsibility it is to teach writing.

Work Cited

Hanstedt, Paul, et. al. “Barbarians at the Gate: Professors from Outside the English Department Reflect on Teaching First-Year Writing.” Pedagogy 9.2 (Spring 2009): 331-36. Project Muse. Web. 21 Oct. 2011.