Friday, June 5, 2009

Topic: Comments by Teachers on Students' Compositions

10-second review: From a retiring teacher, the author was given 2,000 themes that the teacher had collected over his career, contributed by 50 instructors. The author had lots of fun going over the teachers’ comments on their students’ writing. Here’s what he found.

Title: “The Wacky World of Theme-Marking.” Gary Sloan. College Composition and Communication (December 1977), 370-373. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).


1. [Mistake]. The teacher’s comment on the student’s “mistake” was just plain wrong. Substituted “whomever” when the student had correctly used “whoever” in an admittedly tricky sentence: “She would give advice to whoever she believed needed it.”

2. [Mistake Doubled]. The teachers made the same mistake in the comment on the student’s mistake. Example of the teacher’s comment: “One of the main weaknesses are verb tense and agreement.”

3. [Improved?] A third type of comment occurred when the teacher tried to “improve” the expression of the student’s sentence.

Student sentence: “We couldn’t decide if we wanted to do it or not.”

Teacher’s correction: “It was exceedingly difficult for us to reach a decision concerning the complex issue.”

4. [Purpose?] Teacher disagreed with the student’s idea—not with the expression of the idea, but with the idea itself. Teacher suggested readings in the margin that would contradict the student’s idea and support the teacher’s own point of view. [I teach writing. I don’t proselytize.RayS.]

5. [“Mistakes?”] Teacher pointed out “mistakes” that are used by very good writers in actual published work. For example, beginning sentences with “And…” or “But….”

The author concludes with this statement: “Taken as a whole, the two thousand odd themes bore out a conclusion I had previously drawn from my own experience with marking, which is that it’s an enterprise fraught with peril. There are more things done wrong than right. …. I estimated that most of the markings could have been omitted without loss to the students, that in fact many such omissions would have constituted a decided service.” p. 373.

Comment: “Physician, heal thyself.” RayS.

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