Last week our blog discussed the top ten instructor pet peeves regarding student research papers. But fair is fair, so this week we’ve compiled a top ten list of student pet peeves regarding written assignments.
- No written assignment. This may be the number one complaint from students in the writing center. When assigning a paper, too often instructors give a verbal explanation in class, with no clear written guidelines for students to refer to, leaving them with numerous questions as they sit down to compose their essay. Written guidelines not only help the student compose a better essay, but also help the instructor to avoid numerous assignment-related questions.
- Unclear academic jargon. This is especially a problem for English language learners and freshmen. These students are new to college and often are not familiar with academic language that is second nature to upper classmen and college professors. When giving written assignments, use plain speak.
- Lack of written feedback. Students wait impatiently for their graded essays so they can read the feedback from instructors and learn what they need to improve for their next essay. If they receive only a grade and little to no written feedback, it’s difficult to discern what they need to improve. If nothing needs improving, instructors should state that as well.
- Lack of explanations. Instructors might assign a “literary analysis,” or a “rhetorical analysis,” or an “expository essay,” and expect students to know what these types of essays mean (see “unclear academic jargon” above). Even if instructors think they’ve explained it thoroughly in class, a brief written explanation goes a long way.
- Surprise expectations. Students read the assignment objectives and follow all guidelines as written, composing what they feel is a strong paper. When they get it back from the instructor, they’ve received a low grade because they didn’t include the textbook as one of their sources; however, this wasn’t a requirement listed in the assignment guidelines. Surprise! If it’s a requirement, make it part of the written assignment.
- Failure to define grading criteria. One word: Rubric. Vast bodies of research show that grading rubrics help students understand their final grade. Many instructors give the grading rubrics to students with the assignments so students know exactly how they will be evaluated before they turn in their paper. Why should it be a surprise? Be upfront and give students the opportunity to succeed.
- Failure to offer assignment objectives. I admit I’ve been guilty of this more than once. I’ve also been called out on it. Students want to know why they are being asked to do something, so they feel they’re not just jumping through hoops. How does it fit in with the class objectives? How will it aid their learning? How will completing this assignment help them to succeed on the next assignment? Students are smart and often are very good judges of what they need. Offer a list of two or three assignment objectives so students know why the work you’re asking them to do is necessary.
- No positive feedback. It’s often difficult to look past pages of sentence-level errors or lack of focus, organization, paragraph structure or fill-in-the-blank. But studies show it’s often the positive feedback that aids learning, not the negative feedback. Pointing out a passage that is particularly strong or a descriptive sentence that is especially vivid is the best way to encourage students to model the positives, as opposed to attempting to avoid the negatives.
- Lack of essay samples. Students like to read examples of essays so they get a feel for what the expectations are. Spending a class period having students assess a sampling of student essays, discussing what is working and what isn’t, is a good way to show how they might compose their own essays.
- Lack of suggested resources. If it’s not in the syllabus, think about putting it on the assignment handout. Purdue Owl is on all my written assignments, arguable the best online source for writing help. I also have it linked in my online class management system (Angel or Blackboard). You can also list links to such things as sample essays or how to access the library online. Again, it helps instructors (by avoiding a barrage of questions) as much as it helps students.
This is only an abbreviated list of student pet peeves, but lack of convenient parking is out of my control.