Posts Tagged ‘revision’

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.

Comments on a Commentary on Comments

By Gretchen Panzer - Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 4:07pm

Yesterday I had an appointment with a student who was working on the second draft of her paper. She brought her first draft along, which had been returned—with comments—from the professor, and she asked me to make sure she had followed all of the professor’s suggestions. At the time, I didn’t think anything of this situation; after all, it’s a perfectly ordinary occurrence at the Writing Center. However, after reading Nancy Sommers’ article “Responding to Student Writing,” I’m reconsidering how we as tutors can best help students unpack and address professors’ comments.

Sommers is quite critical of teachers’ comments on student writing, arguing that most teachers write such vague, generic, and contradictory comments that students are confused rather than enlightened as they start to revise. While many of the professors I’ve written assignments for provide what I think are excellent comments—that is, comments that are specific and focused, and clearly outline how I should go about revising my paper—I have also received comments that focus, as Sommers describes, on sentence-level issues rather than higher-order concerns. In one particularly frustrating example of this, a professor marked up my works cited page and edited my punctuation, but did not explain how I could improve the essay in terms of argument, structure, and other higher-order concerns.

The professor who commented on the student paper I read yesterday did provide some specific ways in which the student could improve her argument and organization. However, he also marked some of her grammatical errors. By doing so, Sommers would argue, he encouraged the student to view her first draft as an immutable product and over-emphasized the importance of grammar in comparison to higher-order issues. Whether or not professors should include sentence-level issues in their comments is certainly an interesting question, but since we’re tutors rather than professors, I’m more concerned with how we should deal with professors’ comments in the Writing Center.

Should we provide exactly the kind of help students tend to ask for—go over the comments and make sure the student conforms to the professor’s suggestions in his or her final draft? Or should we step in and make higher-order suggestions when professors don’t provide them, and risk introducing new errors into the text in the process? Or should we strike a balance between safe and risky, pointing out higher-order concerns only if we are confident that the student has the time, motivation, resources, and ability to put together a polished final draft after making drastic changes?


Work Cited

Sommers, Nancy. “Responding to Student Writing.” College Composition and Communication 33.2 (May 1982): 148-56. JSTOR. Web. 20 Sept. 2011.