Monday, September 24, 2012

Students show difficulties with college level writing. From the Indiana Statesman.

Hmm, it should say,
"Patrick Barcus, who
USED to be an
English instructor."
By Elizabeth Dawes

With difficulties in writing at ISU a growing concern ISU faculty attempts to trace the cause and think of what can be done to solve this.

The average SAT writing scores for ISU is 444. For 2011-2012 48.58 percent of first-time, first year freshmen scored between 400-499 on SAT writing out of a scale of 800. On a national level, the average SAT writing score for 2011 was 489.

Some ISU faculty view that admittance of students who are not adequately prepared may be a reason for the difficulties experienced with college writing.

“ISU cares only about numbers,” Patrick Barcus, English instructor, said. “Quality is not as important as quantity when it comes to enrollment here, which is why we have such a problem with retention. Many of our students come from school systems that are failing at the pedagogical level, and thus they produce unprepared students. ISU does not seem to care ... As far as ISU is concerned, if you have a pulse and a way to pay for tuition, you’re in.”



  1. Well . . . duh. Although I love how they work in texting as a reason for it sucking, despite the fact that the research pretty much shows that it has no lasting effect on their writing. No, the reason they suck at writing is simple: they suck at reading. And they never have to read critically or actively in school, because they can guess on a multiple choice test and get a C.

  2. I must teach at ISU and not even know it. And I echo what Prof Chiltepin says: no reading skills also affects writing. How many of them read anything substantive anymore (anything longer than a sentence or two)?

  3. I'm an Old Fart so I like to repeat myself: Students have ALWAYS had trouble with academic writing, and they've ALWAYS been resistant to reading. These complaints--"Kids today can't x, y, or z"--are nothing new.

    Good thing, too; otherwise, we--at least we English teachers--wouldn't have jobs.

    1. What *is* new is that there are so many of them in higher ed now. College used to be for "the best and the brightest." (Ok, also athletes and the kids of wealthy people.) But, in general, for most of the history of higher ed, professors had a room full of fairly smart, educated young adults in their classrooms.


      Some classrooms (especially at CCs and open enrollment Us) are lucky to have 2-3 "smart" students in them. The rest of the class always need some form of remediation, behavior modification, or a shot from a tranquilizer dart gun. Reading and writing are just the tip of the iceberg.

    2. I want to remember that one of the cuneiform tablets at the U of Chicago Oriental Institute says something along the lines of "Kids today cannot write".

    3. Coming from an extinct culture, that's quite plausible.

      Also, there now is something new under the Sun: consumer electronics.

    4. All the research being done on how brain patterns change based on electronics is making me hold my breath.

  4. As someone who spent much of the weekend grading papers, I can identify very closely and painfully with this problem. While I received some very good papers, some were truly awful, both in terms of their engagement with the question, and in terms of their writing.

    In a few cases, the writing problems are clearly the result of a student whose first language is not English, and in those cases it's often the university itself that is most to blame, because it is willing to accept tuition from international students and doesn't much care whether their language abilities are adequate for a college-level humanities course.

    In most cases, though, it's native English speakers who simply have no idea about usage, grammar, spelling, and sentence construction. Even some of those who do have the basic skills often evince no understanding of the difference between formal and informal writing, and pepper their essays with colloquialisms, bromides, cliches, and rhetorical questions.

    Of course, as Philip (aka Old Fart) suggests above, this is probably not new. Most of us who ended up in academia were good writers as undergrads. I know that, as an undergraduate, I barely saw any work produced by my fellow students. I saw my own work, and the good grades that it got, but I never concerned myself with other people's writing abilities, and for all I know some of them could have been as awful as the papers I graded this weekend. I know for a fact that there were people in my classes in college who never did the reading, and who got shitty grades all the time.

    1. If I could put you in a time machine and take you back to 1973 to grade a set of student papers, you'd see a few decent papers and some that are "truly awful." They wouldn't look a lot different than the papers you get from students in 2012.

      Believe me, things haven't changed much. Or DON'T believe me: Pick a decade, browse through enough newspaper and magazine articles, and you'll find the same complaints--"Students today can't write."

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. "Most of us who ended up in academia were good writers as undergrads"
    I thought I was a good writer as a 1st year undergrad. I got a dose of red-ink humility in my required 101 comp class that served as a wake-up call that there was plenty I didn't know about writing.

    The thing was: I had an interest then (and now) in becoming a better writer.

    I'm teaching 200-level year writing-intensive class of students who supposedly have been through their required composition requirement. This term has become an exercise in agony at every grading session. One or two or non-native speakers, and they are far ahead of their native English speaking peers whose principal problem is "don't give a shit".

    Not to paint with too broad a brush, but my previous sections of this class consisted mostly of working adults (many of whom were nurses, who I hold in awe anyway). Most tried, and most improved.

    This term I'm dealing with mostly full-time students, many of whom are involved in intercollegiate athletics. And the collective quality of writing could not be worse. This is a feedback-intensive course, and every grading session is like being on a waterboard (yes, I've been on one...back in aircrew survival school in the 1970s...but that's another story).

    December can't come soon enough...

  6. Student journalists are no exception. The student (I assume) who wrote the article seems to be having some trouble with subject-verb agreement, sentence structure, and general gracefulness of phrasing (or lack thereof) in the first sentence.

    1. I have taught journalism students. They are often the worst!

      Imagine a room full of students who want to become writers in their future profession. Now imagine that most of them write at a 6th grade level.

      Don't get me started on the plagiarism problems and what that might imply about the future of journalism. Hell, many of them are now in the profession, god help us.

    2. Speaking of journalists, I want to know who it is that teaches reporters to always sign off with either a melodramatic rhetorical question or a stupid pun (or frequently both). They all do it, and they seem to think it gives them gravitas (it makes them sound like idiots). I want to find the guy who teaches them to do that.

      Then I want to hog-tie the bastard with a gift bow and hand him/her over to Strelnikov.

  7. I know, SERIOUSLY the first thing I noticed about that article was how dreadfully written it was.

    Here are some things I'm going to blame besides Twitter:

    Nobody reads anything decent anymore.
    Nobody studies foreign languages anymore.
    Nobody diagrams sentences anymore (which, I'm sorry, is actually fun).
    Nobody apparently teaches grammar systematically anymore.
    Nobody seems to assign published scholarly articles to undergrads anymore.
    Newspapers, blogs, and even children's books are riddled with errors.

    1. Second that, F&T. Even the pros are screwing things up more and more often these days (and not just on their Twitter accounts), to the point where I wonder if the idea of a decent copy editor under 30 is as mythical as a pink leprechaun riding a zebra unicorn. (And what will we do when the older ones retire?)

    2. @F&T: I do assign published scholarly articles to undergrads (but yes, some of them complain about it). And yes, diagramming sentences is fun (but I only occasionally do it in class, and never make my students do it).

      @Edna: my local paper didn't wait for the older ones to retire; it offered a bunch of them buyouts (and may have fired a few more). It shows.


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